The Delicious Person's Guide to Bug Bites

Posted by   Annette on    May 31, 2013


Are you delicious? If you are, you know it.

When you seem to get bitten more than anyone else around you, it's tempting to say what I always used to say: "Man, the mosquitoes just love me. I must be delicious!"  True--you're likely perfectly delectable, my little sugarplum. However, there are steps that you can take to mitigate your inherent yumminess (and perhaps save yourself a hospital stay or two in the process). 

Here's some fun irony as backstory: I've spent years in the practice of what people love to call "extreme" sports, and the only thing that has actually landed me in hospital is running up against a little emmereffer small enough to squish with my pinkie. I was living in Thailand when dengue outbreak hit a flashpoint in the area. I thought that my daily soakings in DEET would be sufficient to shield me, so I dutifully sheep-dipped myself in chemicals around the clock. I was a walking carcinogen, wearing DEET cream under DEET spray under Permethrin-doused clothing.

Guess what? NOPE. I seemed to receive the same number of bites no matter what chemicals I was bathing in. It wasn't long before I spent two weeks in the hospital, chained to an IV pole, watching endless Bollywood music videos while I prayed my gums wouldn’t bleed when I brushed my teeth. It was not a nice time.

I have different methods now, as you might image. YMMV, but the guidelines below have worked quite well for me for a decade. I hope they help you, too.

Bite Prevention

  • If you’re somewhere that the mozzies are fierce (and/or you’re in a disease zone), make sure you sleep with a mosquito net. It’s unlikely that any hotel or guesthouse would be without one in a zone where they’re important, but flat-renters may need to purchase one. The moment you realize you don’t have a net, get one sorted out. Don’t wait until you wake up with one eye swollen shut from a mozzie bite.
  • The right clothing is part of the puzzle, but it's not all there is. Dark and brightly colored clothing is a mosquito attractant. Tight fabric doesn't protect, either (per an actual government warning)--which includes jeans. Thin, porous fabrics can be bitten straight through. Mosquitoes easily find their way up the loose sleeves and pant legs you've been warned to don. Unless you're willing to channel your inner Obi Wan Kenobi (or wear full motorcycle racing leathers, you can't meaningfully rely on wardrobe to protect you.
  • There's only one way to really stack the cards in your favor: Location, location, location. Don't hang out in places with water, because some of that water is going to become standing water long enough to be a problem. (Y'know: riversides, lakesides, beachsides, water gardens, the entire city of Chiang Mai, anywhere during Songkran...) 
  • In dengue zones, upgrade your accommodation to a place with air conditioning. It really helps, but it's not 100%--so sleep with the fan going strong and don't forego the net.
  • Stay scrupulously clean. Mosquitoes are attracted to smelly bodies--especially feet, because many species tend to hang out close to the ground. (They're also attracted to your outbreaths. Unfortunately, you're going to have to keep breathing.)
  • Don't bother with the "natural" repellents from the drugstore; they don't work. Make your own. I spray on one part Avon Skin So Soft bath oil mixed with three parts witch hazel, which I've found to be as effective as the chemical-warfare aerosol repellents. Another option, which smells even better (and is easier to carry around): one or two drops of doTerra TerraShield Essential Oil Blend, mixed in to unscented lotion or--my preference--diluted in Aubrey Organics 100% Pure Aloe liquid and rubbed all over.

Once You’ve Been Bitten

  • Carry a little tin of Zambuk and, if you get a bite, touch (don’t rub) to apply it. If you don't have your Zambuk on you, dab a bit of saliva on a finger and apply that instead. The enzymes in the saliva will take the edge off the itch until you can address it further.
  • As soon as possible, ice and elevate the bite(s) as best you can. (In some places, “icing” involves buying a soda pop at the street-corner shop or a popsicle from the cart vendor and using that instead of a proper ice pack.) Icing can mean the difference between a bite that itches for weeks and a bite that itches for a few hours.
  • Put a dab of high-quality tea tree oil on each bite.
  • Keep your hands busy while you wait for the tea tree oil to take effect. Knit, bake some cookies, play an instrument—anything that occupies your hands will keep them from scratching.
  • Keep icing the bite and reapply the tea tree oil every six hours or so (or more often, if you prefer) until the bite disappears. It won’t stick around long.
  • If you have a fever, don’t wait. Get to a doctor, and let them tell you it’s nothing. My very general advice for location-independents and other world travelers is to carry a thermometer; after all, the appearance of a fever is generally your first, best, clearest indication that you’ve picked up something that’s legitimately dangerous (whether from bugs, water or your new neighbors).
  • Learn the lesson. There was a reason you were bitten. What were you doing wrong? How can you avoid being bitten in the future? Use it as an opportunity to upgrade your approach.

photo credit: Dale Gillard Life on a lilly via photopin (license)