Keeping mosquitoes from bugging you



July 07, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

A buzz. A belated slap. A welt.

Go outside to fish, to hike, to cook out in the summer and they're waiting, motors idling, hoping to top off their tanks with some of your house red.

I still have nightmares about a camping trip near Lake Champlain a couple of years ago with my spouse and our good hiking buddy, "Big Ern" Imhoff, that had more in common with a Red Cross blood drive.

As darkness fell on our little tent city so did a plague's worth of mosquitoes. They attacked us, the spaghetti sauce heating in a pot and the water boiling for the pasta.

"More protein," roared Imhoff with each fatal landing in the sauce.

"You talking about us or them?" my embattled spouse asked.

Call them what you will - blood suckers, the Jersey state bird or @%$#@@!! Just don't call them late to dinner.

Keeping mosquitoes from gorging on humans is a big business, made even more so with the recent fears about West Nile virus.

The New Jersey-based American Mosquito Control Association estimates the 435 mosquito control districts in the country spend more than $230 million on spraying. Americans spend more than $500 million annually on DEET, the most effective of the chemical repellents.

The association even designated June 23-29 as Mosquito Awareness Week - as if you needed to be reminded.

Everyone, it seems, has a goo or contraption guaranteed to keep your red cells on the inside of your skin.

There appear to be two armed philosophical camps in the war on mosquitoes. One advocates driving them away and making them someone else's problem. The other camp embraces an active campaign of luring them in and snuffing them out.

And the high ground goes to?

It depends.

If you don't mind possibly having your brain cells, personality and/or molecular structure altered, DEET is unquestionably Numero Uno.

Colorless and odorless (no reports on the taste), DEET is the nickname for N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, a petroleum-based substance developed by the government in 1946 that masks your smell rather than repel mosquitoes and ticks.

It really works, and then some. Horror stories abound of headaches and rashes, melted plastic watchbands and rain-proofing laminates eaten from rain gear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that products used on children contain no more than 10 percent DEET. The rest of us are on our own.

Last month, the University of Florida's Medical Entomology Laboratory conducted a test of four repellents for Good Housekeeping.

Three products did an excellent job for 60 minutes: Cutter Skinsations (7 percent DEET), Deep Woods OFF! (24 percent) and OFF! Botanicals, which is made with eucalyptus oil. But only Deep Woods' formula provided good protection for more than two hours.

The fourth product tested was a flop. The $20 Mosquito Control Plus wristbands, which the literature insists "replicate the wing-beat frequency of dragonflies, the foremost predator of mosquitoes," did not. Instead, they apparently sent out a dinner invitation to the biters.

And Florida researchers say the herbal lotions that claim to do just as good a job without DEET are, for the most part, wishful thinking.

If you don't want to wear goo, you're staying close to home and appliances are your friends, the mosquito industry can accommodate you, too.

The Mosquito Magnet Pro is a propane-powered device about the size of a gas grill. It gives off carbon dioxide, heat and moisture - tastes like humans to a mosquito. But once the gals fly in to look for a landing zone, they are sucked into a net, where they dehydrate and die within 24 hours. The machine protects a 1-acre area.

The U.S. military tested the $1,300 Magnet Pro two years ago in South Korea and found it to be a killing machine. But this is the same organization that pays thousands for toilet seats and hammers, so what's $1,300? For that kind of cash, you might consider paying the bugs off.

A smaller unit, Mosquito Magnet Liberty, protects half the area and costs $495.

A colleague of mine with a buggy yard volunteered his family to test two devices made by Coleman, the folks who make the indestructible but hard-to-hoist coolers, the lanterns with the silk mantles that incinerate if you don't know what you're doing and the reliable stoves.

The $20 Mosquito Deleto "Inhibitor" looks like George and Jane Jetson's ashtray. Two AA batteries power a tiny fan that blows repellent around a picnic table-sized area.

"It smells nice, at least," Jerry Jackson said after a two-week trial. "But it didn't help much."

He also tried the industrial-size Deleto, a $200 contraption that looks like a gigantic gray blender. A $169 version is smaller and Coleman designed it for car campers.

It, too, runs on propane that warms and releases a smell that is supposed to mimic human smells. Once lured inside, the bugs stick to a replaceable adhesive strip.

After a two-week run, Jackson reported it had rubbed out about a half dozen skeeters and tons of gnat-like things.

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