“Have you been in a car crash?” one of my 147 (just on my mother’s side, and last counted in 1982, although that is first and second cousins) asked me. My legs were covered in those circular cotton wool pads you get, and each disc was held on by a strip of American tan coloured Elastoplast. Underneath each was a mosquito bite and I had 23 on my left calf alone.
Every year it was the same story. Every year I’d go to Italy and be told by alligator-skinned relatives that there were no mosquitoes. Every year, like an idiot, I’d believe them and until I woke up covered in bites like mini volcanos. I’m not allergic to mozzie bites, but I do react really badly to them, each one growing bigger by the day until it starts to ooze pus and get infected and I was effectively house-bound.
It’s not surprising I didn’t lose my virginity til I was 22.
In 1996, after one famous holiday to the North when my dad told me there were, positively, no mosquitoes and that I was being a girl about it and I then got half eaten alive until I was just one big mound of bites and just to walk hurt…well after that I decided, rather belatedly, to never ever listen to anyone ever again on this subject.
Since then I have not been bitten in Italy, although of course, you get mozzies here now.
As I write I have a bite on my toe, right at the point, sustained last night, and three – THREE – on my bottom. Bastards. But so far anyway, the mozzies here are just nowhere near as bad as the ones in Italy (“you want parmesan with that madam, black pepper?”) and I can control the bites simply with an application of Germolene (it has a local anaesthetic). It’s so far never got so bad that I try to pull the poison out with one of those suction pens, which is what I’m reduced to in Italy. When this doesn’t work, and I burst all the blood vessels around the bite, I then try to squeeze the poison out using just my fingernails. I cannot imagine why my bites get infected and I then get paraded round the local farmacia like a freak. “Ma GUARDA!”
I have of course, become the world’s most annoying self-styled expert about mosquitoes so here’s what I’ve learned.
It’s the females what bite (they need the proteins from your blood, or mostly my blood, to lay eggs). There is no relevance to this other than to make women feel it’s their fault. If you get close enough to them the females have long proboscis, the male have shorter ones.
All but one species lays its eggs on standing water, so be aware if you have any outside your bedroom window. Left paddling pools, ponds, guttering, buckets. The bastards aren’t fussy.
They find you through the carbon dioxide you exhale. Again, this is of no help to you unless you plan on not breathing.
Mosquitoes don’t like ‘air currents’, so although it’s not a good idea to sleep with the window open, an electric fan, sleeping in the wake of a Jumbo Jet or having the air conditioning on may help, although I wouldn’t rely on those alone.
Never believe locals who tell you there are no mosquitoes.
Start your defence early. I use plug in mosquito repellent in the room I’ll be sleeping in and start plugging them in at about tea-time (4pm) and carry an Autan stick with me everywhere. I’m very partial to Autan, but I’m sure any old make will do. Use a stick or cream rather than a spray because it lasts longer, because you get more on your skin rather than it dispersing through the air. (I use a stick cos it’s easier to carry and apply, you don’t need to get your fingers all greasy.) That said, the ‘effective for’ times given on the packet are the maximum. Like suncream, they start to lose effectiveness as each hours passes so if in doubt, apply again.
The three main ingredients you will find in most commercially available, topically applied repellents are:
Deet (usually listed as dimethyl benzamide or diethyl toluamide)
KBR-3023 (more commonly known as picaridin or icaridin)
IR-3535 (listed on products as ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate or 3-ethyl aminoproprionate).
Deet is regarded as the most effective, because lower doses of it last longer. However, there have been rare cases of children reacting to it. Also, be aware that Deet can ruin synthetics, leather and hard plastic so be particularly careful when applying it near watch-faces, sunglasses or camera lenses.
Mosi-guard, (www.mosi-guard.com) is made from lemon eucalyptus and is suitable for babies from three months.
You may also want to consider a mosquito net. However, be aware that these are usually impregnated with insecticide. Unimpregnated nets are not recommended because you would have to be absolutely sure that there wasn’t an arm or leg touching the net, through which the mosquito could bite, or that the net wasn’t torn.
Although mosquitoes can and do bite through clothing, they tend to prefer bare skin if it’s available, so whatever product you go for, you need to apply it all over any exposed skin.
Products containing citronella have been shown to have some effect in tests, but don’t last long at all – approximately two hours and usually aren’t recommended for children under two.
Please note that if you are travelling somewhere where there is malaria, follow the instructions of your GP and never rely on a repellent alone.