They’re back! The annoying, high-pitched, modulated whine of Aedes, Anopheles and Culex (aka the mosquito, Spanish for “little fly”) is now rapidly expanding everywhere and with it comes the potential to become infected with any number of nasty viral or parasitic diseases such as Encephalitis, West Nile Virus, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Filaria, amongst others. Our little winged lady friends (of course, only the females ever feed on blood!) are excellent disease vectors and have a long and distinguished record of generously sharing with us the various infectious nasties that they often carry. What the hell are friends for anyway, if not to stab you with their proboscis! Here’s a detailed look at the tip of one. Climate change / global warming seems to be favorable for the tropical diseases to expand their ranges further away from the equator so acquiring some basic knowledge and taking preventive measures is advisable.
L.L. Bean rides to the rescue with some well-made and exceptionally-tough work shirts that are fully proboscis-proof. The triple-stitched Katahdin Iron Works canvas utility shirt is available in unlined and lined versions and is highly recommended. For those of you looking for something more lightweight for hot-weather use Bean also offers their Sunwashed Canvas Shirt, which is less expensive, but won’t be as tough. Carhartt offers worthy competition to L.L. Bean with their Tradesman Canvas Work Shirt and Heavyweight Canvas Work Shirt. Arborwear provides another excellent choice with its Soft Canvas Shirt. For the lower body your basic denim work jeans, as long as they aren’t too old and worn thin or full of holes, will normally do just fine. If you want to go deluxe Arborwear makes their Original Tree Climber’s Pant (12.5 oz.) and Double Front Blue Jeans (14.5 oz.), as they do with all of their pants, with crotch gussets that give you significantly better freedom of movement than regular pants. This may be particularly appealing to tankermen and deckhands who have to climb around on barges all the time and, as far as I know, they are the only work clothing manufacturer to offer that feature.
For clothing to be mosquito bite-proof the tightness or density of the weave of the fabric is far more important than the thickness of it because if it’s tight enough the insect simply cant get it’s proboscis through it to stab into you. If the weave is too loose they can go right between the strands or yarns to hit paydirt, which they will do, repeatedly. (Hot Tip: as cotton canvas or denim becomes damp it tends to loosen up. A few minutes in a clothes dryer set to high will tighten it right back up again between washings.)
For further protection we turn to biological or chemical warfare! The standard recommendation is to use repellents containing at least 10% DEET. Many companies make the stuff and it’s commonly available, but using repellents properly is important so click here for more info. If the idea of spraying nasty chemicals on yourself is not appealing there is one proven alternative. Repel makes a lemon eucalyptus oil-based repellant that has been tested by both the CDC and the FDA and it has proven to be both safe and effective. In my experience most of the “natural” repellents only work for a short time, if at all, but this one is a real winner and it’s all I use now. Bonus: it doesn’t have that horrible chemical reek and oiliness that you get with the DEET-containing products.
The very nature of our work means that avoiding contact with mosquitoes is impossible. But in general a single bite is highly unlikely to ever cause an infection. So the ultimate goal of protecting yourself is not to eliminate bites altogether, but to minimize the total number you receive, thereby lowering your overall exposure and risk. This will give your immune system its best chance to fend off whatever it’s faced with. People may test positive for having been exposed to West Nile without ever having felt or shown any symptoms of the illness. That’s an indication that their immune system worked as it should and defeated the invader. So don’t overreact to the risks. Just arm yourself with information and then take sensible precautions and you should have no worries.
Here’s a fact sheet with some choice information about mosquitos. If you really are jonesing for more try Mosquito: A Natural History of Our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe by Andrew Spielman.
The U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has lots of good information on West Nile Virus, the most common threat to most of us in North America, so go there and inform yourselves. On a related note, they also have an excellent Traveler’s Health section, which includes good bug protection info, that should be consulted if there exists the slightest possibility that your work might take you outside of the continental U.S. or Canada. Once the phone rings and you receive orders you won’t have time to ensure that you and your crew are properly vaccinated for your destination country and all points in between, so think about it now.
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