First one, then another. Bite! Slap! Bite! Before you know it, mosquitoes are descending from the skies to disrupt your backyard summer soiree. How can such a tiny, fragile insect cause so much pain, suffering and annoyance?
Notwithstanding the death and disease that mosquito-borne pathogens cause around the world, the annoyance caused by mosquito bites can be seriously disruptive (and yes, they might bite you more than your friends). The reactions to bites can be severe, and when swarms of mosquitoes swell in the suburbs, the impacts can be substantial.
It may be impossible to stop mosquitoes flying in from local bushland or wetland areas. The mosquitoes breeding in your neighbours’ yard won’t have much trouble flying over the fence either, and while local authorities may instigate control programs and new technologies are deployed to reduce, replace or wipe out local mosquito populations, there is still plenty you can do to beat the bite of mosquitoes yourself.
Here’s how you can build a mosquito-free zone around your friends and family.
Slip, slop and spread it around
Just as you’d slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat to protect from sunburn, two of these three apply to mosquito bite protection too.
Slipping on long-sleeved shirts and long pants will protect from mosquito bites. Darker colours tend to attract mosquitoes and even though pale clothing won’t repel mozzies, perhaps you won’t attract as many. Also, go for something loose-fitting so the mozzies cannot bite through to your skin, and perhaps rethink the skin-tight active wear for your next bushwalk or fishing trip.
Slopping on some insect repellent is the best way to go. Pick a product that contains either diethyltoluamide (commonly known as DEET), picaridin, or “oil of lemon eucalyptus”. These products will all provide long-lasting protection, as long as they’re applied correctly.
This is where the “spread” comes in.
A dab of repellent here and there won’t work. A squirt on the back of your shirt or a puff above your head won’t do the trick either.
Regardless of formulation, be it cream, lotion, gel, roll-on, pump-spray or aerosol, there needs to be complete coverage of all exposed skin. If you miss a bit, the mosquito will find that chink in your armour and bite it.
You can sweat it off, rub it off or wash it off while swimming, so keep in mind that you’ll need to reapply your chosen repellent throughout the day.
Some people are reluctant to use these “chemical” repellents, and feel anxious about perceived health risks. However, these products are used billions of times every year with very few reports of skin irritation or other adverse outcomes. You’re at far greater risk (from mosquito-borne disease) by not using these products.
Even if you go looking for alternative products, such as those that contain plant-based ingredients, keep in mind these will need to be reapplied more frequently to provide the same level of protection. Some “home-made” repellents containing essential oils can irritate the skin, so stick with products that are registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
Is there an alternative to creams and sprays?
You may not like the sticky feel on your skin but topical repellents are really the best way to stop mosquito bites. There are, however, a few options available that can at least reduce the number of bites and are worth a try.