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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: World’s Deadliest Animal | 07-10-2016
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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jul 10, 2016

DianneErskineHellrigelYou’re probably thinking sharks, lions, tigers, bears and the like, right? Believe it or not, the deadliest animal in the world is the mosquito.

mosquitoes are responsible for a lot of diseases including Zika virus, malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever, cikungunya and filariasis. Thousands of species feed on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. The nasty, itchy lump you get after a mosquito bite is a reaction to their saliva. Most bites cause little more than the itchy lump, but keep an eye open for symptoms that could be more dangerous.

Are you one of those people who gets bitten by mosquitoes more than others? Or are you one of the lucky ones who might only get a few bites, while the friend next to you is covered with bites?

There’s a reason for that. Blood type is one of them. People with type-O blood are more appealing to a mosquito. People who drink alcohol, especially beer, and those with diabetes are delicious subjects to a mosquito.

Even shirt color can determine whom a mosquito picks on. Genetics plays a huge role in how attractive you are to a mosquito. (Thanks, Dad). Steroids, ingestion of sugary foods and even higher levels of cholesterol can influence mosquitoes and cause them to swarm around you.

13588980_10210420328723321_771424886_oCarbon dioxide is another attractant. If you are emitting a lot of it, the mosquitoes will come to visit you from a distance of at least 50 meters. Activity and exertion produce lactic acid, and greater production of carbon dioxide – both of which will turn you into a mosquito magnet. Not only that, but movement is something the mosquitoes can sense, and your activity will bring them right in.

I tested this on a recent camping trip. One night I was stationary and got very few bites, while the girl dancing nearby was being ravaged. The second night, I spent more time walking around, and I quickly became the target.

Why do they bite? They don’t need your blood for a meal. Only the female mosquito bites, and she bites because she needs blood to help develop her fertile eggs.

They have been around for 170 million years. Despite our best efforts, they might be around for another 170 million years. To make matters worse, in the United States, there are more than 175 species of mosquitoes.

It is wise to use a repellent when you are in mosquito territory. The most effective repellents contain DEET. DEET has been in use for over 40 years and is considered to be a safe choice, as long as you follow directions on the product label. There have been a few hospitalizations due to inappropriate use and overuse. Read the label.

13643968_10210420328563317_582524528_nAnother chemical in use since 1998 has proven somewhat effective and safe. It is called picaridin. If you are sensitive to chemicals, or hate to use them, there is another newer chemical called metofluthrin. This chemical is not applied to the skin. It comes in a paper strip you can put in areas such as a patio table, or you can attach it to your clothing. It is battery powered and releases the chemical into the air, thus chasing the mosquitoes away.

Other non-chemical choices include eucalyptus products, lemon-eucalyptus, lemongrass, geranium, citronella, cedar and peppermint. All of these natural products can provide short-lived protection.

When I was in Tahiti, I was forewarned about the huge mosquito problem at the time. I tried vitamin B1 as an alternative. It was very effective. I took the vitamin for two weeks before I left and throughout the trip. It made my skin smell funny, but it kept most of the mosquitoes away. There are ongoing studies on this type of repellant now. Thus far, there are no conclusions to report.

Another alternative to think about are mosquito traps. These traps emit mosquito attractants to lure the mosquitoes in, and then the trap kills them. If you live in a mosquito-infested area, this is a good way to stay safe. Place them everywhere around the exterior of your home. They have been proven to eliminate large populations of mosquitoes.

13595569_10210420328523316_722069129_nIf you’re traveling to an infested region, you might consider Bug Off brand clothing. These safari-style pants, shirts and socks are saturated with permethrin, a marigold derivative. I have traveled throughout Africa and Asia with these rugged clothes and have stayed free of mosquito bites.

Note: If you’re in Africa in tsi tsi fly areas, don’t wear black or blue. Leave those jeans at home. Black and blue colors will attract tsi tsi flies.

You can also buy spray on permethrin and spray your own clothing. Permethrin will wash out of your clothes. The labels say they are good for 25 washings. I have found they lose most of their effectiveness after 10 washes.

To stay safer at home, remove any standing water where mosquitoes can breed. If you have a small pond, bird bath or rain barrel (without a cover), change the water regularly. Check your rain gutters to make sure they are not clogged and holding water. Don’t let water collect for too long in the saucers under your plants. This is a perfect breeding ground for those pesky mosquitoes.

I hope this information will help to keep you safe and mosquito-free.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Important info. Thank you.

  2. Dianna Boone says:

    Very interesting! Especially about the vitamin B1 and Bug Off clothing, movement and blood type.

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