Mosquitoes are the sworn enemy of anyone that enjoys the outdoors. Any avid hiker will tell you, mosquitoes can make anyone question whether humans are really on top of the food chain. Mosquito seasons vary depending on your region’s climate. In Northern Canada, the season is short lasting from May to August, while in the Southern US it can be almost year round. Learn more about mosquitoes, and how to deal with them.
Know your enemy: Mosquito Facts
- Mosquitoes can be more than annoying. They can be vectors of serious diseases. The Zika virus has recently been in the spotlight, mostly due to hitting close to home. Still, various tropical diseases that are mosquito-borne continue to plague people today in Asia and Africa.
- Mosquitoes are choosy; some people indeed attract mosquitoes more than others – Blood type, Bacterial flora, pregnancy, the color of clothes
- Mosquitoes can take in up to 3 times their weight in blood; they track our exhales (carbon dioxide), and the heat we generate, and the sweat we produce
- Mosquitoes feed on the nectar from fruits and plants; only the female mosquitoes at the time before laying their eggs seek blood for their protein needs
- Mosquitoes are numerous – with over 3000 species, and they all die fast and lay tons of eggs. Even Google couldn’t give a decent guesstimate of the population of mosquitoes.
What doesn’t work
Bug zappers (handheld): “The Terminators” are cool toys – and somewhat effective in getting at mosquitoes around you. The main weakness is that it’s hand-held, and mosquitoes are just too numerous. You don’t have eyes on the back of your head, and they’ll get at you out of sight.
Bug zappers (traps): Most insect traps attract bugs with light. Unfortunately, mosquitoes aren’t attracted to light; they are attracted to carbon dioxide. Bug zappers are mostly ineffective against mosquitoes,3 and mainly cause harm to the insects that feed on pests and harm biodiversity in various ways.4
Diet: Numerous diet theories have been proposed to make yourself a less attractive meal to mosquitoes, but so far, they are mainly based on anecdotes. There is no evidence suggesting that certain foods keep the bugs away.
What does work
Insect Repellent: DEET is the gold standard. Picaridin and eucalyptus oil are the other ingredients that the CDC recommends. The odor is repulsive to the mosquitoes and lasts for about an hour and a half. If you are going for a hike or plan to camp out, this is your best bet.
The small stuff: Wear lighter color clothing – mosquitoes are attracted to darker colors. They are also more active at dawn or dusk, some subspecies more than others. These small things can make a difference when you’re out on a hike.
Insect nets: A simple mosquito net, either as a cover or over a tent, is an effective repellent when you are camping. It also saves lives in areas where mosquito-borne diseases are a serious threat. Mosquito nets are one of the simplest and most cost-effective interventions in tropical zones where mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, yellow fever, encephalitis, and the Zika virus remain a serious threat.6
Eradication: It might seem like an over-reaction, but this is more than fantasy; it has been a serious consideration among entomologists and health care decision-makers. Eradicating anything is pretty hard – polio was beaten only recently in 20117 – but it’s not impossible. Despite three new cases, it seems like a matter of time until the New Guinea Worm is eradicated.8 To be clear, it is impossible to remove all mosquitoes; the idea is to target the few species that are carriers of the most dangerous human diseases – so don’t count on a mosquito-free camping trip this year.
How to Deal with Mosquito Bites*
*If you are traveling to an area where mosquito-borne diseases like malaria are present, you need to prepare appropriately; these tips are for when there is little to no such risk.9
- Mosquitoes will get you – they are too numerous
- They bite anywhere on the skin that is exposed
- Swelling around the bite is your body’s reaction to the saliva from the mosquito
- When you have access to clean water, wash the bitten area but avoid scratching as it can open you up to infection from bacteria that are under the nails
- If you have access, apply ice
- Toothpaste can be a pseudo-numbing agent that might relieve a bit of itch
- Honey, calamine lotions, or aloe vera can have some antibacterial effect and can feel soothing
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1Malaria was and still is a very serious problem in certain areas of the world, and with the Zika and West Nile virus, the dangers are hitting closer to home for North Americans.