Dear Pharmacist: What spray do you recommend for hiking or picnicking outdoors? — T.K., Denver, Colorado
Answer: This may shock you, but I prefer chemical sprays that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. I am all about good bug protection and can’t find any natural spray that works. Mosquitoes, ticks and other ‘vectors,’ as they are called, carry pathogens that can infect you and disable you with encephalitis, malaria, Lyme, Babesia and other diseases.
When I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to give a lecture, there was so much concern about Dengue fever transmission from the mosquitos that some men boarded our plane with one specific task. They sprayed it down with chemicals while all of us passengers covered up our face and nose to avoid breathing the fumes. Their intention was to kill any mosquito on board to prevent it infecting a passenger.
So I take no chances. I used to take more chances until I saw the ramifications of this in my own family from one darn tick. Now I spray the chemicals on as if I was on the television show “Naked & Afraid.” It would be my survival item!
I go out when absolutely necessary, and avoid endemic areas and lakes that harbor disease-carrying critters. I wear long pants while hiking. I also keep up my B vitamins. Most of the time, the mosquitoes will swarm my husband and ignore me. I think the B vitamins matter. If you have a methylation snp (pronounced “snip”), you will be deficient in B vitamins. After I found out I had low B vitamins, I restored levels with a high-quality B complex with added methylfolate, and now the bugs don’t find me quite as tasty. Science doesn’t back me on that, but many report the same finding as me. It’s really all about how attractive a bug finds you. That’s why, if you can believe the Internet, spraying yourself with Listerine or eating garlic makes you less attractive to bugs.
I respect that some of you don’t want to spray on the chemicals. If you want a natural alternative, here’s a suggestion. It may not work as well when applied:
32 ounces of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons each of dried sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme and peppermint
1 tablespoon of dried basil
5 drops of essential oil of catnip
Put all of this in a big glass jar and tighten the lid. Leave it there for 3 weeks, shaking it daily. Strain it and dilute by half with distilled water. Put it in little spray bottles that you can carry in your backpack or purse. Use as needed before going out.
Now, I’d like to end the myth that taking antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin before going out repels bugs. It’s not true. These drugs, especially Benadryl reduces itching and redness but that’s all. Finally, some bug bites require medical attention. If you develop swollen lymph nodes, fever, headaches, hives or low blood pressure, this requires medical attention.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at www.suzycohen.com.