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2017-04-19 06:00 by Karl Denninger
in Outside Thoughts , 332 references Ignore this thread
Insex Control :-) *
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I keep seeing all sorts of crap on social media regarding ticks and insect-born disease (specifically, Lyme in the context of ticks) along with "recommendations" that are typically coming from extreme environmental jackasses that will not protect you whatsoever.

Of course it's not just ticks.  Mosquitoes are not just an annoyance, although in the US until recently that was all it was.  In much of the world mosquitoes carry yellow fever, dengue, malaria and more.  In the US we now have Zika (minor but real risk) but in terms of relative harm on a world-wide basis mosquito bites do a hell of a lot more harm than do ticks.

Second, contrary to popular belief ticks are not mostly propagated by deer.  Yes, they're part of the tick "circle of life" but if you want to know where the problem really comes from it's mice.

Most animals really don't like ticks on them and will try to groom or scrape them off, with varying degrees of success.  For reasons nobody I've seen explain with any degree of authority mice appear to not give a damn even when their faces are covered in the things, which means they get to exchange blood with said mouse and cross-infect one another.  Thus, where mouse populations are a problem ticks are sure to follow.

Controlling your risk when outside comes down to a few options, and IMHO there's only one that really works in a high-infestation of aggressive insect area, which I'll get to.

Worst and damn near worthless are the so-called "natural" products with eucalyptus oil and similar.  Don't waste your money.  Not only will they not keep mosquitoes off you they won't keep biting flies or ticks off either.  Mosquitoes and biting flies (along with most other flying insects that bite such as no-seeums) home in on carbon dioxide exhaled by animals and an alcohol, octenol, that is inherently in the breath of mammals. That's how they find you, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it as all mammals have it in their breath.  The so-called "odorish" repellents such as eucalyptus attempt to "poison" this homing mechanism by making you stink, basically.  While it does have some impact it's minimal.

In the category of "mostly works" is DEET-based repellents.

DEET works by targeting the actual receptors in the insect.  Is it perfect?  No, and among other things biting flies often ignore it entirely.  It's reasonably safe but you have to apply it essentially everywhere you have exposed skin and on clothing, because the bugs will bite through clothing that is not thick enough to prevent it.  There is no practical physical barrier option in warm weather because clothing thick enough to prevent a mosquito bite or a close-fitting enough to prevent a tick from getting inside is impossible to wear for any length of time in warm or hot weather.  DEET also will damage many synthetic fabrics.

In short DEET based repellents work to a material degree, they're reasonably safe, they're an option, but they're stinky, they require high-percentage coverage of skin and clothing to be effective, and some insects (specifically biting flies) will ignore repellents made with it.

None of these repellents do a thing for you once an insect finds you.  They simply reduce the probability of the insect's "homing mechanism" working.  In a place with enough of them you're still screwed; they'll reduce but not stop bites.  If a tick gets on you you will get bit even if covered in DEET.

This brings me to the only logical answer: Pyrethrum.

Pyrethrum is a pesticide derived from a naturally occuring chemical in the chrysanthemum flower.  Well over 100 years ago it was noted that a number of indigenous people of Asia and parts of Europe were using an extract from said flowers as an anti-lice treatment.  The molecule responsible was isolated and is now synthesized and available in a number of forms for various types of pest control.  It is the active ingredient in "de-lousing" shampoos for kids.  It is a primary component in flea and tick treatments for dogs and other animals, including livestock.  Of note is that it cannot be used on cats as it is highly toxic to them when in liquid form, but the dried residue is not dangerous to them -- only the liquid.

Again, I will note: The liquid will kill your cat.  It's safe once fully dry but the liquid must not be stored or used where a cat can get into it as fluffy will quickly become an ex-fluffy if it does.

What's especially noteworthy in this context, however, is that it is not a contact repellent but is instead applied to clothing and kills the insects that come in contact with it.  They also avoid contact to the extent they can; apparently they recognize the hazard.  And finally it doesn't smell; I can detect only a very faint odor although it certainly appears the insects can smell it a long way away and avoid it like the plague!

You can buy it in liquid, trigger-spray form at WalMart, BassPro and other places.  Some (online) places also sell it in concentrated form and it's a good way to save money but pay close attention to the "inert ingredients" -- some forms are intended for outside use and have a petroleum solvent in them, which is to be avoided on clothing for obvious reasons! 

Again, this stuff is not applied to skin -- it's applied to clothing before you wear it and allowed to dry first, which means you need to pre-treat your clothing at least a day or so before use.  The insect-barring treatment remains good for several washings, although it will eventually need to be reapplied.  You can also buy clothing pre-treated with it in a longer-lasting form (they infuse it under high pressure and claim it remains effective for a few dozen washings) called "Insect Shield", and if you really want to get crazy the company that does the treating will treat your clothing for you (send it to them, they treat and send it back.)

So if you want to keep things that bite off you, including ticks, try this:

1. Wear thin but long-sleeve and long-pant clothing.  Clothing exists that is made expressly for this purpose; it's typically constructed of very thin synthetics or very thin merino wool.  I've recently picked up a pair of "Rail Riders" pants which are the cat's ass in this regard in that they have zip open legs that remain protected by a mesh and are pre-treated.  Due to the zip-open nature of the bottom they're as cool as shorts on a hot day but provide more protection on cooler days.  For hiking or just general outdoor excursions they're excellent.  I used to use a technical long-sleeve running shirt for a top but have recently picked up a "technical" nylon, thin (and again, mesh under the pits and back of neck) from REI that I like a great deal.  That I treated as it didn't come already done.  Be aware that these pieces are going to be frightfully expensive, but you only need one or two pair of pants and one or two shirts.  This sort of clothing "breathes" exceptionally well and if you get it wet it will dry in minutes.

2. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, again, treated.  The idea here is to protect your head which is a bitch to examine well for ticks and bites on the head suck anyway.  I have owned a "Tilley Hat" for quite some time and it's great; ventilated at the top, wide-brimmed, water-resistant (not waterproof!) and so far it has held up well through several years of use.  In an extreme biting insect situation you might consider a very thin silk bandana for your neck that you've treated as well although I've never needed it.

3. Wear long, merino-wool socks.  They're good at preventing hot-spots and blisters when hiking, are anti-microbial (read: don't stink inside of 15 minutes), will retain warmth when they get wet and dry reasonably quickly.  You can treat these if you want but I don't; the pants are good enough.

Let me note that since adopting this approach out in the woods I don't get bit at all and I've yet to find a tick on me either.

In addition to being bite-free approaching the problem this way you'll also get a free add-on -- no need for sunblock, since you already are wearing sunscreen in the form of clothing -- which (greatly) beats slathering on the goop.

And finally it's a lot more comfortable and easy to deal with than "traditional" light clothing (e.g. T-shirt and a pair of shorts); it's both warmer in the early morning (when you want it) and believe it or not, cooler in the middle of the day since you both get wicking/evaporation and protection from direct sun heating.

Winner winner chicken dinner!

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