Imagine salivating over an amazing al fresco feast, delicious aromas on the breeze tempting you in like the Bisto kids. The scent of fresh sardines cooking on an open grill by the water’s edge in Portugal or fried onions at a funfair hot dog stand. The porky goodness of a hog roast at a party or the meaty smoke from a beach barbecue.
To a mosquito I am a hot pork bap with crackling and apple sauce, a frankfurter topped with juicy onions and a squirt of yellow mustard. I am delicious.
To cut a long story short, about 15 years ago I ended up in a Portugese hospital in a wheelchair, knees so swollen they wouldn’t bend, horrified staff whispering and pointing at the pale British lady with bites the size of Digestive biscuits all over her legs. (TBH they might have been comparing my bites to Biscoitos but I’m not sure.)
I spent the first week of my holiday with bandaged knees, avoiding the pool and visiting the hospital every other day for my dressing to be changed. Aside from the obvious discomfort, the pain, the itching, the inconvenience, I was also left with scars from ankle to hip.
So from then on I have waged a one woman war on mosquitoes. But since getting pregnant in 2006 I’ve been keen to avoid DEET and other harmful chemicals.
DEET, originally tested as a pesticide on farm fields, is a component of many of the leading brands of insect repellent. It might be the best insect repellent people have ever invented but it has also been shown to have a toxic effect in mammals. The advice is to wash it off your skin when you return indoors, avoid breathing it in and not spray it directly on your face. I just don’t like the sound of this and would rather not take the risk for me or my kids.
If you’re heading away and think your skin will prove to be super enticing for the dreaded critters, use my top tips to prevent looking like you have the bubonic plague.
Female mosquitoes — males do not bite people — need human blood to develop fertile eggs. And apparently, not just anyone’s will do.Mosquitoes also target people who produce excess amounts of certain acids, such as uric acid, explains entomologist John Edman, PhD, spokesman for the Entomological Society of America. These substances can trigger mosquitoes’ sense of smell, luring them to land on unsuspecting victims.But the process of attraction begins long before the landing. Mosquitoes can smell their dinner from an impressive distance of up to 50 meters, explains Edman. This doesn’t bode well for people who emit large quantities of carbon dioxide.“Any type of carbon dioxide is attractive, even over a long distance,” Conlon says. Larger people tend to give off more carbon dioxide, which is why mosquitoes typically prefer munching on adults to small children.Pregnant women are also at increased risk, as they produce a greater-than-normal amount of exhaled carbon dioxide. Movement and heat also attract mosquitoes.
Allegedly mosquitoes, like vampires, are hungry little blood-suckers who hate the smell of garlic. Or perhaps it simply masks your scent. Either way I heartily recommend consuming vast amounts of garlic on holiday. Ok, so your husband might not be too keen to snuggle up to you but believe me, if your nether regions get bitten, you won’t want him snuggling up to you anyway!
I also take odourless ‘Super Garlic’ capsules for about 2 weeks before holidays to kick off a good pungent bouquet from my glands. NB: called odourless but still stink even through their little translucent plastic bubbles. By the time I get on the plane, I reek like Gerard Depardieu might after eating a vat of moules frites with aioli and a side of pain à l’ail.
My next tricks are for use once you arrive. Mosquitoes mainly feed at dawn and dusk but also for a few hours once it’s dark. Never assume you’ll be safe for even a second. Those evil bugs can launch a stealth attack without you even noticing.
I like to initiate my offensive in the bathroom.
The smell of peppermint, cinnamon, citronella, cedar, clove, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, lavender, catnip, patchouli, tea tree oil, eucalyptus and sage are extremely unpleasant to mosquitoes.
This year I chose Original Source Tea Tree and Mint Shower Gel and Vosene Kids 3 in 1 Conditioning Shampoo with Tea Tree Oil and Lemon Eucalyptus followed by Avalon Organics Peppermint Revitalizing Conditioner. After showering I used Optima Australian Tea Tree Organic Hand & Body Lotion. Finally I sprayed any exposed areas (and my hair) with Korres Myrtle & Citronella Moisturising Emulsion Insect Repellent then applied Green Baby Deet free Mosquito Patches to my wrists and ankles.
And I sat out every evening, arms and shoulders on display and strappy sandals so there was always plenty of juicy flesh to nibble.
I only got one bite!
And if you do get bitten I find Jungle Formula Cooling Insect spray works well to relieve the itching. Even more natural approaches are to warm a metal spoon under hot tap water for a minute or so, then press it directly against the bite. The heat counteracts the histamine response. Alternatively use an ice cube, the cold will help constrict the blood vessels, decreasing blood flow and helping to prevent any venom from spreading.
When female mosquitoes poke their proboscis through your skin so they can suck some of your blood to be later used to make eggs, they inject you with some of their saliva. This saliva helps them to drink your blood more quickly, because it contains a cocktail of anticoagulants.
Once the female mosquito is full up of your blood or is disturbed, she flies away, leaving some of her saliva behind. Your body then kicks your immune system in gear as a response to the presence of this saliva. It produces various antibodies which in turn bind to the antigens in the mosquito’s saliva. This then triggers the release of histamine.
Histamine is a nitrogen compound that, among other things, triggers an inflammatory response. It also helps white blood cells and other proteins to engage invaders in your body by making the capillaries of these cells more permeable. Bottom line, the histamine ends up making the blood vessels near the bite swell up. This produces a pink, itchy bump where the mosquito poked you.
Scratching the bump only makes this worse because it causes more irritation and inflammation of the sight, resulting in your immune system thinking it needs more antibodies to get rid of the foreign protein. So the more you scratch, the more it will swell; the itchier it will get; and the longer it will last.
So to summarise, if you don’t want to end up looking like Freddy Krueger:
- Take garlic pills
- Eat plenty of garlic on holiday
- Wash hair and body with natural products that mask your natural (delicious) odour
- Apply body lotion and spray to layer on the protection
- Use patches on exposed areas to keep on releasing more scent through out the evening
- If you are able to, light a citronella candle when sitting outdoors.
*Disclaimer – these are just my tips, some gleaned from hours of research on the interweb and some from real life experience. My tips might not work for you but it’s worth a go surely?*
*Second disclaimer – I bought all of these items with my own hard earned cash at full price. I’m not in the pay of anyone mentioned here (more’s the pity)*
Today’s earworm: ‘36 D’ – The Beautiful South
Last night’s different dinner score: 2