Fear of the Outdoors or Sensible Defenses Against Insects?

Fear of the Outdoors or Sensible Defenses Against Insects?

26th December 2015203Views15Comments
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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.

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

Susan Harris
on May 27, 2016 at 10:42 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes.


This is the other thing I like about David Austin roses


Solitude and Nature


  1. 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.

  2. “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.”

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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