Although the chances for contracting a serious disease - malaria, dengue or HIV - from a mosquito bite are just about nil in the Intermountain West, their bites can drive a person to "itchsania."
The only diseases mosquitoes do carry that threaten humans are western equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis, although Utah hasn't seen an outbreak of those in more than 40 years.
The health risks are greater for animals, especially dogs, which can contract heartworms from mosquitoes. To help protect dogs from heartworms, a once-a-month oral de-wormer can be purchased at pet supply stores.
Despite that lack of mortal danger, protection from the sucking satanic offspring (make that daughters, since only female mosquitoes bite) still remains a priority for anyone leaving the comfort of air conditioning.
The suggested armor against mosquitoes ranges from basic bug spray to lighted candles, garlic and bursting their blood sacs.
Following is a list of the common and not-so-common cures, along with evaluations of their effectiveness, provided by various mosquito abatement district officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Craig R. Nichols, the chief epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health. Sorry, no old wives were surveyed:
- DEET - The most common and highly recommended of repellents, it is contained in most over-the-counter repellents and can be purchased in both liquid and spray. The effectiveness depends on the percentage of DEET in the repellent, although skin irritation has been reported by those using percentages higher than 30 percent, especially on children.
If using anything higher (100 percent DEET formulas are available), don't over-apply the repellent, and wash immediately when returning inside. One thing DEET won't do is keep the mosquitoes off of you; it only prevents them from actually biting.
- Permethrin - Another common chemical in commercial repellents, it is applied to the clothing. Although highly effective, recommendations state that it should never be applied directly to the skin or to clothing on a person. Instead, it is recommended that clothes be pre-treated occasionally.
Permethrin will remain effective after laundering, and provides little danger of toxicity when on the clothes.
- Avon Skin-So-Soft - The most expensive of the old wives tales, there is actually a formula of this product that contains citronella, another repellent, in a small dose. However, none of those queried have found this very effective.
- Garlic - "If you eat enough garlic to scare mosquitoes off, you'll also scare most humans off," Nichols said.
- Exploding mosquitoes - A tactic where people try to blow up the bug by flexing a muscle at the point where the bug is drawing blood so it can't retract its proboscis and gets too full of blood.
Fails for two reasons: Mosquitoes don't overfill with blood, they just release their excrement to make room. Yuck. The toxin that makes you itch is injected prior to bloodsucking.
- Gambusia fish - These guppy-like fish can be placed in water areas around residences where mosquito larvae hatch, such as bird baths, to eat the larvae. Mosquito abatement districts will provide them free.
- Candles - Citronella candles will keep bugs away in a small radius around the candle, although some officials said that any smoke will do that.
- Bug zappers - The problem with these devices is the mosquitoes are drawn by the light they give off but head for humans in the area because the mosquitoes can smell the carbon dioxide we breathe out and attack that.
- Dry ice - Because it puts off carbon dioxide, dry ice draws mosquitoes. Nichols suggested putting the dry ice in a corner of the yard, away from people. Also, you could try hanging the dry ice from a bug zapper, although nobody has actually tried that.
- Bracelets and beepers - Apparently, discount stores offer beepers that scare off mosquitoes, although no one confirmed they work. Also, these same stores offer scented bracelets that act as repellents. These work, but only within a 2-inch radius of the bracelet.
Once you're bitten - because no repellent will provide 100 percent protection - the best solution to getting rid of the bite is simply don't scratch.
Not scratching, however, presents a challenge unto itself. Nichols suggested a trip to the drugstore, which offers a variety of anti-itch medications. Also, try ice, aloe vera or any other itch stopper you can find.
"The key is to find what works for you," Nichols said, "and go with it."