Designs, Tricks, and Schemes

Fear of the Outdoors or Sensible Defenses Against Insects?

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Gardeners and other outdoors-types have always had to deal with mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers, and many of us chose to pretty much ignore them. But then came Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus, which got even a diehard like me starting to worry. A friend contracted the dreaded Lyme and has since abandoned her garden.

And now with the encroachment of Zika virus, my doctor is giving me a lecture I’m afraid to ignore. So when neighbors posted insect-protection advice on the local Facebook group and recommended consulting the staff at REI, I did just that.

Indeed REI has protective devices and products for seemingly every known insect. And if their customers are backpacking into deep woods with these products, I’m thinking they must be good enough for my townhouse garden, or for walking the wooded path around the lake near me.

Here’s what I was told to do – by a very helpful and (I’m hoping) knowledgeable staffer.

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For protection against ticks, he recommended I spray my clothes with Permethrin, though never on the skin. Drench the items and let them dry fully and it’ll work for several weeks and through several washings, he said. Long sleeves are required, and socks tucked into long pants. Plus a hat. I later learned that “Permethrin is an insecticide in the pyrethroid family. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that act like natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower,” Source.  It may be mum-based but I was warned that it’s very lethal to cats.

(An option I rejected, for now, is buying clothes already treated with Permethrin.)

Then for protection against the ticks and mosquitoes, before each outing I’m supposed to spray all those items with maximum strength DEET, then use a lower-strength DEET product.

From the EPA  I learned that “An estimated one-third of the U.S. population use DEET to protect them from mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus, the Zika virus or malaria and tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever….DEET is designed for direct application to people’s skin to repel insects. Rather than killing them, DEET works by making it hard for these biting bugs to smell us.”

The REI guy also suggested I try the lotion Picaridan as a DEET-alternative, and I did. But ugh, it’s a messy lotion, just as unpleasant as spraying something around my face. The product I brought home that I loved and ordered more of online is Ben’s wipes.

Perhaps the primary precaution we’re all supposed to take against tick-borne disease is the post-outdoors whole-body check, but that presumes intimacy with a close personal associate who’s available at all times. People who live alone are out of luck.

All that said, DAMN I hate that I’ve become afraid of being outdoors. DAMN I hate applying products and in the summer when it matters the most, wearing long sleeves and pants. So far, I’m doing it, but only for actual digging in the dirt.  If I’m just watering, and not brushing up against plants, I’m using the DEET wipes and that’s it.

Gardeners, what are YOU doing for protection these days?

Parks, Too

Of course it isn’t just gardeners who are becoming scared shitless to go outside.  An article I wrote about the national park near me prompted all sorts of push-back from readers: Ticks, chiggers! Never going there!

So I asked some National Park Service folks and a public-health crusader for spending time in parks how they would respond. They sighed and suggested two things.

  • (Paraphrasing) Stop listening to scary news reports! Instead, educate yourself about the real dangers – say from the CDC. (Okay, that link advises us to “use common sense” and to “ensure adequate protection during times of day when mosquitoes are most active,” which they list as “dawn to dust.” Oh, great.
  • After gathering facts about the real dangers of ticks and mosquitoes, weigh them against the far greater danger of developing chronic diseases from sitting indoors on your ass all day (definitely paraphrasing). Unfortunately, chronic diseases don’t make for catchy news stories.

Mosquito photo credit. Tick photo credit.

Posted by on May 27, 2016 at 10:42 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes.
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22 responses to “Fear of the Outdoors or Sensible Defenses Against Insects?”

  1. Mike says:

    Lemon Balm is a good mosquito repellent. We used to plant it on the front porch to keep the bloodsucking bugs away.

  2. dirtLover says:

    In San Diego, we often use shredded cedar mulch. This is known to help deter insects around back yards.

  3. Betsy says:

    Unfortunately, my husband often develops lipomas (tumors) in response to mosquito bites. So we have to be aggressive. I’m working on improving drainage in the back 40. Meanwhile, we have to fog the lowlands at dusk every 2 weeks and use bti. Cutter Uncented has changed my life! Larva traps REALLY help, too–just a bucket with bti in the water.

  4. jpn pol vado says:

    Here is what I do for quick itch relief. I use HOT water in cup and dip a spoon in it and place it on the itch. The length of time will depend on what you can tolerate.
    Your mileage may vary. Hot surfaces also will work well but use caution.

  5. Susan McKenna says:

    Last fall I contracted West Nile nuroinvasive, which means it literally went to my head- in the form of viral meningitis. I get bit by bugs of all types constantly, even while wearing sprays containing deet. My life may never be the same. But I refuse to stay indoors all the time. I have become more diligent in scouring my yard for standing water, and just take precautions. Long sleeves when I can bear it, and spray, spray & spray!

  6. Susan Harris says:

    Oh my God! Thanks, I guess, for telling us. Sigh.

  7. anne says:

    Another thing I would add to the tick conversation for anyone who likes to garden, hike or run in black athletic leggings: ticks seem to be very attracted to them, and they stick to the knit fabric really well. We found this out when our daughter was working out on our farm; during our tick checks, my Jeans-wearing husband and I had maybe 1 or 2, and she had a dozen or more sometimes, all on her leggings!

  8. kermit says:

    One caveat about Zika virus – it can be transmitted sexually.

    I’ll be retired from my indoor job in a few months, and here in the high Northern desert we are somewhat protected from these critters. It does seem that as changes wrought by humans work on our Mother Earth, she is favoring the chitinous, the toxic, and the infectious.

    I say to heck with it, get outside anyway (but I understand that it’s easy for me to say where I live). As I grow older and perhaps the world more inhospitable, I will value my time in the garden, and savor what beauty I can in it for as long as I can. Even if it smells more and more like DEET.

  9. Diana Davis says:

    When I do work with field biologists the choice is clear: DEET containing products only. None of the field biologists I’ve worked with have found any other products effective in the wilderness.

    Personally I take my showers in the evening and do a thorough tick check then. If I find any they usually aren’t attached yet so they can be removed before there’s a chance of disease transmission.

    Of course if you’re studying insects or birds you need to avoid DEET as it can bother or harm them so many just get bitten. You want to meet someone really tough? Look at the nerds who studies insects in the tropics or in the Arctic. THOSE women and men are TOUGH.

  10. Lyme disease did make a mess of my life for a couple years, but I cannot imagine staying inside due to the threat of re-contracting it. The mental and physical price would be too high. You can’t live your life like that – afraid of every bogyman out there. Seriously, there are too many damn bogymen.

    I live on a wooded property now (lots of deer), but interestingly, our tick and mosquito issues are much much less than they used to be in the suburbs only a few miles away. For those with the ability to let them wander (and neighbors who won’t mind the squawking), I highly recommend guinea hens as a terrific way of keeping tick populations in check.

  11. bev says:

    I don’t think we should do anything further to prevent people from going outdoors; they already don’t. Keep in mind just because you have a tick or mosquito bite, your chances per bite of it transmitting disease are still quite small. Also, the Zika virus is really no more dangerous to us than any other mosquito borne virus UNLESS you are pregnant. Yes, protect – I live in an area with mucho mosquitoes and ticks and do use DEET and the protective clothing – but don’t let it keep you from doing what you love.

  12. […] Fear of the Outdoors or Sensible Defenses Against Insects? originally appeared on Garden Rant on May 27, 2016. […]

  13. filippine says:

    Not sure about letting the hair down; when I walk the woods with my brother, he always has his legs full with ticks, while mine remain clean ( He is a hairy guy and I am am a shaving lady). Maybe it is true that they connect to the skin slower, while tripping over the hairs. But the hairs also make it easier to get a hold on you in the first place.

  14. Susan says:

    Since I work outside here at my place in SE Michigan all spring, summer and fall, I do use mosquito protection. I tested the Sawyer picardin and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus both recommended by Consumer Reports. I found that Cutter’s Deep Woods stuff which I have used for years works the best. I think of it as my summer scent.

  15. Joe Schmitt says:

    Here’s a suggestion for those willing to let their hair down – quit shaving various parts of your body unnecessarily. I’m in the tall grass and woods a good bit out of necessity and pick up ticks in the process regularly, but I always feel them tripping over body hairs well before they’ve found a suitable site for their blood meal. That, plus a tick check in summer for the few that caught me napping while they traveled and managed to find a feeding site, have kept me Lyme free (and who knows what else) for 72 years.

  16. Marcia says:

    Sorry about my grammar of late.
    Knead moor sleap.
    :-)

  17. BCT says:

    I use DEET sprayed on my hat and clothing , never my face, when I venture into our North Woods or working in my garden during “bug season”, which unfortunately corresponds to planting season. The peskiest insects are the blackflies, but they don’t carry disease (I hope) and only drive you insane and itchy. The mosquitoes here do not carry tropical diseases like West Nile or Zika because they are a different breed, but one still doesn’t want to be eaten alive.
    For a milder repellent, I have success with a natural product spray made from distillants and oils such as euchalyptus, lavender, basil, pennyroyal, and tea tree oil, its effect does not last as long as DEET, but is OK for kids, and smells “interesting” . I buy the spray at a local Farmer’s Market. Ticks are spreading into the area thanks to global warming, so I guess I’ll have to keep a look out for them too.

  18. marcia says:

    “In areas where [Lyme disease] is very common, one out of every four or five ticks might be infected,” says Paul Mead, M.D., MPH, chief of epidemiology and surveillance activity at the CDC. “In other areas where it’s much rarer, that may be more like one in 100.”

    Second, if a tick is removed within 24 hours of biting, risk of infection drops dramatically. “It’s important to take a definitive step quickly,” says Mead. “If you look for ticks every day and — [if you] find them — remove them, you aren’t likely to get Lyme disease.”

    My husband and I do tick checks every day. I will often pull off 3-4 deer ticks daily do to my work on my nestbox trail. No lyme disease yet in 20 years of doing this.

    Chiggers? Have to use DEET and if they nail me, I have to use prescription triamcinolone. Over the counter cortisone creams don’t work. I’d scratch myself until I couldn’t any more.

    Don’t suffer. Get that prescription cream.

  19. Laura Munoz says:

    This is all very interesting as I have only DEET as a defense. Hadn’t heard of the others including the mosquito coils mentioned by John by the River.

    I guess (sigh) I need to get serious.

    I walked through tall grass in a field about a month ago. (I wanted to harvest some wild flower seeds.) I thought briefly before I did it about the possibility of ticks and then I thought, “Oh, you’re being paranoid. Going into tall grass just ONE time won’t give you ticks.” Wrong.

    That evening, I started scratching what I thought was a scab under my arm. I looked and realized it was a small emaciated tick. (I hope “emaciated” means he hadn’t eaten yet although he was attached.)

    Went to the doctor with the tick to request antibiotics just in case so I wouldn’t develop Lyme disease.

    Tons of rain here too so I know I can expect a bunch of mosquitoes soon.

  20. Laura Munoz says:

    This is all very interesting as I have only DEET as a defense. Hadn’t heard of the others including the mosquito coils mentioned by John by the River.

    I guess (sigh) I need to get serious.

    I walked through tall grass in a field about a month ago. (I wanted to harvest some wild flower seeds.) I thought briefly before I did it about the possibility of ticks and then I thought, “Oh, you’re being paranoid. Going into tall grass just ONE time won’t give you ticks.” Wrong.

    That evening, I started scratching what I thought was a scab under my arm. I looked and realized it was a small emaciated tick. (I hope “emaciated” means he hadn’t eaten yet although he was attached.)

    Went to the doctor with the tick and requested antibiotics just in case so I wouldn’t develop Lyme disease.

    Tons of rain here too so I know I can expect a bunch of mosquitoes soon.

  21. John by the river says:

    I spray lemon ammonia and lemon dish soap on the trees and bushes. Mosquitos don’t like the smell – it keeps them down but not completely gone.
    And DEET if they get really bad. Lots of rain this winter and spring in northern California this year, so I am prepared. Also mosquito coils – learned that one in Peace corps. Nasty stuff as it kills cockroaches. Go figure.

  22. skr says:

    I think that’s a Mosquito Hawk, not a mosquito.