Mosquitoes can ruin a walk. Here's how to stop them

The sound of a great horned owl. The chewing of a mule deer enjoying grass. The crunch of your feet on the sandy ground. For every hiker, these sounds increase the pleasure of being outdoors. But the endorphin rush of a great trail can be dulled by the high-pitched buzz of a mosquito hovering around your neck trying to score some lunch.

Unfortunately, mosquito season in Southern California started in early May and there is no end in sight. This period has been “getting longer and longer,” according to Susanne Kluh, general manager of the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District.

“When I started with the district 25 years ago, we pretty much put our shoulders to the wheel [tracking and collection] tools gone in mid-October,” Kluh said. “Because it stays warm for so long, [mosquito season] really lasts until the end of November, sometimes the beginning of December.”

Getting bitten by a mosquito can result in an itchy, unsightly red bump and – depending on where you are – a serious illness. Outbreaks of dengue fever have been seen this year in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, underscoring the importance of wearing repellents no matter where you spend time outdoors.

That's why I've put together a walkthrough on how to protect yourself while recreating in Southern California. Trust me, it will come in handy when planning your next camping trip or hike!

First, what types of mosquitoes live in LA?

Too many. Los Angeles County is home to multiple types of mosquitoes, including several species culex mosquitoes that spread the West Nile virus, usually in the summer months.

Two of the most infamous are the invasive, ankle-biting yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), says Kluh.

Since the 1940s, these little jerks have come to Southern California repeatedly. And that includes a major plague of Asian tiger mosquitoes in 2001, which arrived with a shipment of ornamental bamboo imported from China. For years they struggled to establish themselves. Then climate change worsened and the Aedes mosquitoes have probably adapted. “Every time they live somewhere, they become a little more accustomed to a climate,” Kluh says.

In 2011, LA County officials discovered the Asian tiger mosquito in El Monte, which set off alarm bells over its ability to transmit serious diseases. included dengue and yellow fever in humans, and heartworm in dogs, according to the UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research.

Then in 2014, yellow fever mosquitoes were discovered in Commerce and Pico Rivera, raising similar health concerns. Despite its name, the yellow fever mosquito does not transmit the disease in LA County. (But that could happen if an infected local host is ever found.)

Both species are now established in the LA metro area, and we have been suffering ever since.

These aggressive daytime biters spread serious diseases outside of LA, such as the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects in pregnant patients, and the Chikungunya virus, which can cause severe long-term joint pain and dengue fever, which can cause high fever and body aches, and sometimes even death. .

But not all mosquitoes are dangerous. Young mosquitoes generally do not carry diseases and are only a nuisance. They are also great snacks for many birds.

Where do they lay their eggs?

The southern house mosquito, a species Culex Mosquitoes typically lay their eggs in fresh or standing water, such as a muddy puddle where a seasonal river once flowed. She lays them all at once, creating a raft of 100 to 300 eggs that float on the surface of the water. according to to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the Aedes Mosquitoes lay durable eggs that can be attached to a drying water tank, for example. Once hit by a little rain, those eggs hatch.

They “love to bite people” and can breed in small places, Kluh said. A beer bottle capleft by a careless camper next to a campfire, is the perfect nesting nook for any LA Aedes girl.

Normally, paths with water will attract mosquitoes because that is where they will lay their eggs. The Culex thriambus enjoy areas along rivers and streams communities at the foot of the hills. You may also find the western tree-hole mosquito (Ochlerotatus sierrensis) on the road, especially a nearby oak tree. These guys can carry heartworms, which can be devastating to a dog that hasn't been treated with preventive medications.

At higher elevations, including parts of the High Sierra, you may even encounter breeding snowflies in puddles leftover from melting snow. She not carry the West Nile virus, but enjoy biting people.

Wow, gross! How do I keep them away?

There are several ways you can protect yourself against mosquitoes. The most effective of these is DEET.

DEET (chemical name, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient in many insect repellents on the market. It was developed by the US Army in 1946 and registered for public use in 1957. according to to the National Library of Medicine.

The concentration of DEET in a product determines how long it will keep mosquitoes away. A product with 10% DEET does protect you for about two hours, while a DEET product with 30% provides about five hours of protection.

As mosquitoes age, their olfactory system becomes less sensitive, according to Walter S. Leal, a distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis who has studied insects for more than three decades and has studied the effectiveness of DEET and other insect repellents.

To repel older mosquitoes that transmit diseases, you need a higher percentage of DEET: somewhere between 20% and 30%.

Researchers have developed other insect repellents, but they never last as long as DEET. That said, if you take your child to the playground for 30 minutes, Leal says that citronella spray – that's distilled of grass varieties – should work fine. But if you're going for a long walk, DEET is the only repellent on the market proven to last up to six hours. “That's why it's so hard to beat,” Leal said.

But is DEET safe?

The short answer? Yes. But that yes comes with an asterisk: According to According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should use insect repellents that contain no more than 30% DEET. (It notes that reports of side effects associated with DEET are rare, and that DEET, when used properly, poses no health risk.)

The CDC recommends the use of insect repellents, including DEETif you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Repeated research has found that DEET is safe for pregnant parents when used as directed.

“[DEET] is the gold standard,” Leal said.

In his laboratory he tested products with 20% DEET versus products with 20% Picaridin, a synthetic compound developed in the 1980s it resembled the natural piperine, which is found in plants used to make black pepper. Through that work, Leal said he and other scientists have never found a product that is longer lasting and generally more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET.

But DEET has a perception problem because, unlike some insect repellents, it does not occur naturally, Leal said. The audience, especially those who are naturally inclined, pauses to think about that.

“They want something that's natural – they forget about the strychnine [and] ricin are all natural products,” Leal said, referring to toxins derived from plants. “Being natural doesn't necessarily mean it's good, and being synthetic doesn't necessarily mean it's bad.”

Furthermore, people often wrongly associate DEET with the banned insecticide DDT. “This is a big mistake,” Leal said.

There is no chemical similarity between the two. DEET is not a pesticide, which means it repels insects but does not kill them.

But can't my clothes protect me?

Of course they can. Wear loose-fitting shirts and long-sleeved pants when walking. You can also invest in it clothing treated with insecticide permethrin, or buy one squirt with permethrin to treat your tent, equipment or clothing (while not wearing it) to help repel mosquitoes. Spraying DEET on your clothes is not effective, Leal said.

But unless you wear a full-body hazmat suit soaked in permethrin, your exposed skin will still be a target for mosquitoes.

Okay, fine, I'll use DEET. How should I apply it?

If you wear both sunscreen and repellent, apply the repellent last. If you apply sunscreen last, it will cover the repellent and mosquitoes won't notice, Leal said.

In general, it's most helpful to apply DEET to bare skin – your neck, hands, ankles, whatever skin is visible. It is not recommended to use repellents under clothing.

It is important to remember to reapply the repellent if necessary, as even DEET will dissipate over time.

Is there anything else I should know?

A mosquito bite here and there is inevitable, but as long as you're vigilant and embrace DEET, you can prevent your meat from becoming lunch.

And keep in mind that the repellent you apply to keep mosquitoes away will also help repel other nasty insects like ticks and black flies. Three pests, one spray!

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