As much as we may not like it, along with the increasingly warmer days of Spring come nasty biting insects, like ticks, no-see-ums, black flies, and insatiable mosquitoes. It just doesn’t seem fair that they like to hang out in the same campsites and on the same trails that we RVers do. And if their itching reminders of their bites aren’t enough, they can also make us sick and spread disease.
But as uncomfortable as these bites are, most people do not get sick from a few mosquito or tick bites. But certain mosquitoes and ticks can carry viruses that cause human illnesses, like West Nile Virus, symptoms of which can include headaches, joint pains, rashes, and though rarely, neurological symptoms and some deaths. The CDC says there are about 30,000 reported cases each year, but may be much greater.
Your risk depends largely on where you live and travel, says the CDC. About 96% of confirmed Lyme cases occur in just 13 states, mainly in the Northeast and Midwest, though mosquitoes that carry West Nile do live throughout the US.
One odd thing about these pesky insects, just like people, they sometimes find some people more attractive than others. Jonathan Day, a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida, is convinced it’s mostly about carbon dioxide, which mosquitoes and ticks can detect and is how they find their victims. Some people produce more CO2 than others, like heavier people, pregnant women, and exercisers. “The amount of carbon dioxide you produce depends on your metabolic rate,” he says.
But Uli Bernier, a research chemist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says he has seen evidence that other factors are at work over many years of exposing people to mosquitoes in his Gainesville, Fla., lab. He’s seen different mosquitoes zero in on different people, and that some people seem to become more attractive to mosquitoes over time. Alcohol also seems to attract mosquitoes. So if you are a 250-pound weight-lifting pregnant RVer and you just finished your heavy weight workout in your campsite and are chilling out with a beer – look out – you will be the mosquitoes’ number one target.
Do repellents work? Some work well, others don’t. CDC says you want one that includes DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or a chemical called IR3535. But while DEET products have long been thought to be the most effective, recent tests by Consumer Reports gave the edge to picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
These tips can also help.
- Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, closed shoes and socks for a walk in the woods.
- Spray a repellent called permethrin on clothing and gear.
- Check yourself for ticks when you go inside (this can be a most enjoyable time of day when you and your mate inspect each other for ticks).
- For around your campsite, sit next to a fan (small, battery-powered fans are inexpensive) as mosquitoes perform poorly in a wind, losing the ability to fly well.
These repellent strategies do NOT seem to work:
- “Natural” repellent sprays made with plant oils, such as citronella, lemongrass, and rosemary
- Wrist bands containing citronella or geraniol oil
The American Academy of Pediatrics adds these to the ineffective list:
- Vitamin B1 supplements
- Bug zappers (they may actually attract insects)
- Ultrasonic devices
You can find Bob Difley’s RVing ebooks on Amazon Kindle and posts on the Good Sam Blog, on his Gizmos & Gadgets blog on the RV Travel network of blogs, and Ask BoondockBob in the RVTravel Saturday newsletter. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.