Health July 31, 2008


Fight the Bite

When you’re out on the river or traversing the trails, nothing will kill your buzz faster than a swarm of buzzing mosquitoes. And now that West Nile virus is a growing threat—there were 10 confirmed human cases in Blaine County last year—mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance. One nibble from an infected bug could leave you with a pounding headache, fever and body aches—or, if you are over age 50 or have a weakened immune system, a potentially deadly case of encephalitis (swelling of the brain) or meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself. First and foremost, apply an insect repellent every time you head outside, advises Karin Frodin, R.N., an epidemiologist at South Central District Health in Twin Falls. Avoid the outdoors at dawn and dusk, which is when mosquitoes really get the munchies. And, ideally, wear long sleeves and pants whenever you’re out and about.

Repellents containing DEET, which have been around for decades, still provide some of the best defense against mosquitoes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another good bet: products made with a new ingredient called Picaridin, which is about as effective as DEET but doesn’t have the same icky aroma and is less likely to irritate your skin.

For added protection, you also can wear clothes treated with permethrin, a chemical that injures or kills mosquitoes on contact. Lately, some local retailers have started carrying apparel made with BUZZ OFF™ Insect Shield, the first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved fabric designed to fend off pests. “It’s very effective,” attests Terry Ring, owner of Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum. “It lasts through 30 washings, and repels other bugs, including black flies and ticks.” Another option: Purchase a permethrin-based product like Everglades Outdoor Protective Clothing Treatment (available online or at some drugstores) and apply it yourself.

If you prefer a more natural approach, you can try a plant-based repellent containing citronella or lemon eucalyptus oil. In two scientific studies, lemon eucalyptus oil provided protection similar to repellents containing low concentrations of DEET, the CDC reports. Or, try boosting your intake of B complex vitamins—found in meat, fish, eggs, milk, leafy greens like spinach, beets and seeds, brown rice and oats, citrus fruits, bananas and nuts—which could make you less tasty to critters by changing your body’s scent, says Dr. Stephan Siele, owner of Ascension Holistic Health in Ketchum.

But be warned: Repellents made with higher concentrations of DEET or Picaridin typically provide the longest protection—and they shouldn’t pose any health hazard if used properly, the EPA says. Whatever you decide, follow the directions on the label, and don’t glob it on—a thin layer of the stuff typically does the trick.

This article appears in the Summer 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.