It's been written that at any given moment, a billion billion bugs are besieging the earth. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy the outdoors, many of these creepy crawlies love feeding on human blood and epidermis.
Bugs bite, burrow, buzz and bother. We swat, scratch, scream and scram.
In years past, folks smeared on bear grease or doused their clothes with kerosene or just didn't bathe for weeks, all to elude outdoor pests. Fortunately for us modern humans, these old-time methods of repelling bugs aren't necessary today.
Now, we can use more pleasant ways to avoid the misery spread by outdoor pestdom.
Around 200 species of mosquitoes occur in the United States, and we pity the person who counted. Female mosquitoes, the kind that bite, need a blood meal before laying eggs. To find you, they follow your body's chemical trails. The carbon dioxide you exhale is like the aroma of bacon frying to hungry mosquitoes.
Their bites spoil hours of leisure time, and some mosquitoes transmit diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis and West Nile virus to humans. More than one million people worldwide die from mosquito borne diseases every year.
The best ways to avoid mosquito bites are to wear protective clothing when outdoors and use insect-repellent products containing DEET. DEET has been the most widely used insect repellent in the world for more than 60 years and remains the most effective repellent available.
DEET disrupts the ability of biting insects to detect the source of carbon dioxide that attracts mosquitoes and other biting bugs to us. Insects aren't killed; they just can't locate their prey. Follow label instructions and DEET products are safe. Be aware, however, DEET can dissolve rayon, fishing line and the finish on rods and guns.
Among the latest tools for combating mosquitoes are ThermaCELL products- Mosquito Repellent Appliances and Mosquito Repellent Lanterns- from the Schawbel Corporation. Each operates on a single butane cartridge. The cartridge heats a repellent mat and releases allethrin, a synthetic copy of the natural replant pyrethrin found in chrysanthemum flowers.
The repellent creates a virtually odorless cell of protection up to 98 percent effective against mosquitoes and other biting insects.
The ThermaCELL appliance unites are about the same size as a television remote control and are cordless and odor-free, making them ideal for use when hunting, fishing, and camping. The ThermaCELL lanterns provide light along with insect protection.
The only good thing about ticks is they are a lot smaller than grizzly bears. These nasty parasites think of humans as an enormous strawberry sodas. If they keep their straws in you long enough, they can transmit many serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, babesiosus, and relapsing fever.
In recent years, other serious tick-borne illnesses also have been identified, including a horrible sickness known as alpha-gal that causes a dangerous allergic reaction after the victim eats beef, pork, lamb, venison and other mammalian me ants, and the powassan virus, which can cause long-term neurological problems such as seizures and memory loss.
When outdoors, use a DEET or permethrin-based insect repellent. Repellents containing DEET will repel ticks several hours and are safe for use on skin and clothing if you follow label directions and precautions.
Permethrin products such as Permanone and Duranon will kill ticks on contact for several days when used to treat clothing, shoes, tents, sleeping bags and chairs, but these products never should be used on the skin. Once again, follow label directions.
When possible, walk in the center of trails and avoid brushing against vegetation or traipsing through leaf litter.
Inspect yourself and your children for ticks after trips outdoors, even in your own yard. Check your pets, too. The risk of disease transmission decreases significantly if ticks are removed promptly.
Use a mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Pay special attention to the armpits, groin, waist, ears, belly button, backs of knees and scalp.
Tick bites can be extremely serious. Always take precautions to avoid them before every trip outdoors.
Pest: Biting Fleas
Other bugs out for blood include biting flies such as horseflies, gnats and no-see-ums (biting midges). These insects travel in herds and may be more worrisome than mosquitoes because each bite is like a jab with a red-hot needle.
Some of these flies are so small they can enter dwellings through screens. All are potential vectors of diseases such as tularemia.
Repellents containing R-326 (Di-n-propyl isocinchomeronate) are more effective than DEET against flies. The best are composite repellents containing R-326 for flies, DEET for mosquitoes and ticks, plus the synergist MGK-264 that maximizes the effectiveness of both. These three active ingredients together are called composite or broad spectrum insect repellents.
You also can keep biting flies and other bugs at bay with "bug suits" and other clothing made especially for this purpose. Many variations are available from outdoor retailers
Chiggers are dramatic proof that largeness isn't always important when gauging significance. At 1/150th of an inch in diameter, these mites are virtually invisible. But if these babies tap into your hide (they love skin under elastic), the itchy welts thus raised will remind you for days the grass is not always greener on the other side.
The six-legged chigger larvae, not the eight-legged adults, are the biters. They are not known to transmit disease in the U.S. Nor do they burrow into skin or feed on blood as many people think.
Chiggers insert their mouthparts in a skin pore or hair follicle to eat broken-down skin cells. A digestive enzyme they secrete while feeding causes intense itching that can last a week or more.
Insect repellents containing DEET effectively repel chiggers. For maximum effectiveness, apply the repellent to shoes, socks, pant cuffs, ankles and legs, and around the waist.
Chiggers may move around the body several hours before feeding, and a hot, soapy bath or shower after being outdoors may wash them off before they bite. It's also a good idea to launder clothes worn in chigger-infested areas in soapy, hot water.
If you get bitten by chiggers, apply ointments of benzocaine, hydrocortisone, calamine lotion or others recommended by your doctor for temporary relief of itching. Alcohol may help, too — the rubbing kind, of course.
Pest: Stinging Insects
Stings of wasps, bees, hornets, velvet ants and fire ants can be very unpleasant. People vary in their reactions. Most have only temporary discomfort. But some go into severe, sometimes fatal, shock.
Stings happen when you least expect them. You drink a bee that's sipping your soda. You sit on a mound of FIRE ANTS! You snag your fishing line on a limb attached to a hornet nest. You drive your tent stake through a nest of ground yellow jackets.
To prevent stings, watch for and avoid nests of stinging insects. Wear shoes outdoors in case you accidentally step on one. Don't wear scents and bright-colored clothing outdoors as these attract stinging insects. Don't leave food or garbage exposed outside. Don't swat at a stinging insect as this increases the likelihood of an aggressive reaction.
Most single stings can be treated with a cold compress or sting-kill medication. But if a victim has been stung multiple times or has swallowing difficulties, shortness of breath, weakness or unconsciousness, get them medical attention immediately.
Every minute counts, especially for people who have allergies to the insects' venom. Those who know they have allergies should carry with them at all times a sting kit that includes medication prescribed by their doctor.