Volume 12, Issue 28 ~ July 8-14, 2004
Current Issue
The Books of Our Lives
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflections
Burton on the Bay
Earth Journal
Earth Talk
Sky Watch
101 Ways to Have Fun on the Bay
8 Days a Week
Music Notes
Curtain Call
Movie Times
Bay Weekly in Your Mailbox
Print Advertising Rates
Distribution Spots
Behind Bay Weekly
Contact Us

Powered by

Search bayweekly.com
Search WWW

Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

Bug Off!
Slap … Slap, Slap: Gotcha, Dammit!

Let’s see now. Let’s say we have a choice. Can it be the worst-case scenario. Or the next-worse scenario?

We’re talking about insects, primarily mosquitoes, and our constant battle with ’em. If we kill ’em by the score, they come back in even greater (and bloodthirstier) numbers. Their buzz is annoying, their bite stinging and the party’s over.

It’s from the deck, patio or wherever outdoors, to inside the house or other suitable screened-in retreat. That is, if we’re lucky. If we’re on a boat fishing, we continue to get a lot of bites — but not the kind we want.

Fish bite a baited hook; flying insects bite us. Simple as that.

About 15 years ago, on the side porch of the Burton household here on the shores of Stoney Creek (creek = buggy) in North County I had laid out a new graphite spinning rod and alongside it on a table a container of liquid Muskol, my choice of insect repellent. I intended to go fishing in the morning.

Someone, no one will admit who, obviously decided to dab a bit of the bug juice on him or herself, and that someone didn’t replace the cap securely. You know the rest. Somehow the plastic bottle got tipped over, and you also know where it went. On the new rod, of course.

There I was the next morning making my first flips into a chum line for rockfish off Podickory Point with a brand-new shiny black rod with several inches blemished with an unsightly scar.

Wife Lois was the first to note the calamity. Though she is more vulnerable to insects than I, she announced that never again would any repellent containing DEET touch her fair flesh. “If it does that to a fishing rod, what will it do to me?” she asked.

DEET or Bit?
I figured she might have a point, but it wasn’t such a big deal with me — other than who wants a wife whose arms, cheeks, ears and legs looked like the several inches of my new rod? Me, I don’t really need something to keep mosquitoes away.

Generally, I’m among the fortunate few who don’t have a big problem with mosquitoes. Oh, I’m annoyed by their buzzing, and occasionally a hen mosquito (they’re the only ones that bite, we’re told) will take a bite. But I use repellent primarily to discourage those stinging greenhead flies that always seem to establish populations on any boat I fish.

The directions on the small container of Muskol read “hours of effective protection against mosquitoes, also effective against biting flies, jiggers, ticks, fleas and gnats.” The mention of “biting flies” had prompted me to stock up. An occasional mosquito I could live with, but not with one hungry greenhead fly.

That was about the same time the first concerns were being expressed about the safety of DEET, concerns ranging to things like skin reactions, which are relatively minor compared with breathing problems and even seizures. At the time, the worst-case scenario was the possibility of Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever versus the threat of skin that looked like my rod or, worse, gagging for breath; maybe even a seizure.

What to do?
As I said, mosquitoes were no appreciable annoyance for me. I lived in Alaska before it was a state, where mosquitoes seem to be as big as hummingbirds and can siphon blood from the flesh quicker and in greater volume than a hummingbird can suck up colored sugary water. While others were cursing and swatting, I brushed aside the occasional and annoying mosquito that buzzed too close.

But of late, things have changed more than a bit. Now we have a new threat, and being both diabetic and ancient — which means my immune system is not up to snuff — I’m not anxious to take a chance with West Nile Virus.

I’m not about to stay indoors either. Now what to do? Use a repellent containing big concentrations of DEET or trust that the occasional mosquito that sinks its proboscis into my hide is as pure as new fallen snow? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

What Mosquitoes Hate Most
The Wall Street Journal is among the newspapers delivered to my home daily, and its June 22 edition carried a story based on a New England Journal of Medicine report. Therein was the answer to my dilemma.

Go with DEET. The risks from that bug inhibitor are less than those posed by Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus and such.

New England Journal of Medicine had some masochistic volunteers dunk their repellent-saturated arms into a cage loaded with mosquitoes to determine the average number of minutes before they were bitten by the insects.

After all the ouches — and probably many more expletives not fitting for a family newspaper such as this — it was figured that a repellent containing a 23.8 percent concentration of DEET (Deep Woods Off) was the winner. Three hundred and one and one-half minutes passed before the first bite on an arm plastered with it.

Next was oil of eucalyptus at a 30 percent concentration, providing protection for 120.1 minutes. Then came DEET at 6.7 percent, protecting for 112.4 minutes. Soybean oil at two percent followed, with 94.6 minutes. Then DEET again at 4.6 percent, for 88.4 minutes. IR3535 (Avon’s SSS Bug Guard), at 7.5 percent, protected only 22.9 minutes.

Most brief on the list of seven was what was just about the only thing available when I was a kid, Citronella, which at a 10 percent concentration kept mosquitoes at bay for only 19.7 minutes. Use that, and you’d spend as much time sloshing another application as you would swatting and cursing.

The Price of Going DEET-less
So I’ll keep on using repellents laced with the most DEET. When fishing, the minute or two spent in re-beefing up the original dose might just be the moment when a cast could bring in that big rockfish. A hunter (which I also am) could lose a shot at a trophy.

Of all hunting, it’s on the chase for gobblers in spring wild turkey season that one is most vulnerable to insects, mosquitoes in particular, seeing it’s prime breeding time for them as well as turkeys. My friend Gary Black, then chairman of the board of A.S. Abel (the Sunpapers conglomerate) was a susceptible to mosquitoes as I am ignored by ’em.

Shortly after dawn on a spring turkey hunt in South Carolina, we were working on a gobbler that answered the calls. Each time, it sounded closer. With savvy turkeys, any movement or alien noise will spook ’em. You can’t so much as blink an eye.

Gary tried to tough it out as the mosquitoes swarmed. He grumbled low curses, wrinkled his face, made slow-motion swats despite my murmurs to be still and quiet. The turkey was getting close; to Gary, the mosquitoes even closer. The telling moment was at hand, when …

“No $&*$#^% gobbler in the world is worth putting up with these $&*$#^% mosquitoes,” said Gary, loud enough to spook a tom three counties away, as he stood up and stomped out of the woods. The turkey flushed in the opposite direction. Enough said …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.