Sunday 11 June 2017

Beating the Bugs Afloat.

Have you ever arrived in the most amazing anchorage settled down for Sundowners and been bitten (or eaten alive) by those pesky bugs known as mosquitos, midges or sand flies?

Well it isn’t pleasant.

Rob suffers from these little blighters chasing and biting him and many of our guests have been their target. While it is unfortunate – it happens to most cruisers we know so we thought best to share some tips and tricks that we have tried to help keep the little buggers away, or at least at bay. 

Different preventatives work for different people so give them a go. You may even find some of the unorthodox methods work best for you. 

Fast facts

  • About 1 in 10 people bitten will react in an allergic fashion.
  • The bites will linger for different amounts of time in different people.
  • And can vary in the itching intensity from time to time, and person to person. 
  • Bites will vary in size, appearance, and itch, due to differing amounts and impact of individual allergic mediators.
  • Only the female midges, sand flies and mosquitoes bite, as they need blood protein to make eggs.
  • Some people seem to get bitten more than others. 
  • Biting insects seek heat, CO2, and ammonia to find their victims. 

Myth or Fact

The myth of the moon for sandfly/midge activity is actually correct! Sand flies are much more common on spring tides and not neap tides. The extra movement in the tides stirs them into action and as we know, tides are affected by the moon. 

It is said that midges/sand flies and mosquitos actually urinate on you to break down the skin .... so we thought we should investigate that further. Contrary to belief it is NOT correct. According to the Department of Medical Entomology of the University of Sydney, it is not urine that causes the discomfort. They are blood suckers and inject acidic saliva into the skin to break it down allow easy extraction of the blood. 

Midges live in the sand and mud of coastal habitats such as swampy waterways, lagoons, estuaries, tidal flats and mangroves. They are very small and even though they do look like a fly, they are too small to see their wings. Because they are so small, they can easily fly through normal insect screens. Midge screens are available, and are worth fitting if you intend on cruising through areas such as Hinchenbrook Channel, Far North Queensland and Northern Territory. 

On Our Dreamtime we have a fully enclosed cockpit.  But we have also installed screens to our companionways.

Midges and mosquitos will attack all animals, so you will sometimes notice birds reacting to being bitten. For those of you with pets, you may have noticed the same.

The biting activity of midges and mosquitos is mainly limited to periods of dawn and dusk, with their activity significantly increasing in higher humidity and temperatures between 27-32 degrees Celsius. Midges often remain inactive through windy weather, finding shelter amongst shady vegetation. 

Many species of mosquitoes are not blood eaters and of those that are, only the females bite. Of most concern is the fact that some mosquito species carry diseases.  By passing from host to host, some transmit extremely harmful infections such as Malaria, Yellow Fever, Chikungunya, West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, Firariais, Zika and other arboviruses, rendering it the deadliest insect in the world.

Female and male Midge/Mosquito/Sandfly will both feed on vegetables fluids and nectar for energy, but again only the female will bite. The female has piercing and sucking mouth parts, which suck blood and cause the classic allergic response. A bite is made in the skin and saliva is injected to prevent blood clotting, thereby allowing the blood to be sucked up.

For both midges and mosquitos the females use the blood they obtain as a source of protein for developing eggs.

The classic allergic response to their bites is a small, inflamed spot. Despite the size of these insects. the bites can cause acute discomfort, irritation and severe local reactions. Itching may commence immediately after the bite or a delayed reaction may occur.Generally if you are going to have reaction you will find once bitten – the first few days/nights can be a challenge. The bites are often not itchy straight away, they then can become unbearably itchy, can weep and also form small blisters – this is not uncommon and obviously varies to the individual. After a few days, the bites decrease in size and become a darker purpley-red colour and are not as itchy and they become bearable. 

Blisters can form

They have their greatest impact on people arriving and visiting an area. Local residents tend to build up an immunity to their bites. But some do not, Karen's parents lived in Airlie Beach for over thirty years. Her mother never walked out the door without applying repellant. However Karen and her father rarely, if ever, got bitten. 

We recommend that all our guests on Our Dreamtime take preventative measures (and stock up on remedies), just in case! A bite can ruin your holiday!

A large number of bites around the lower legs/ankles usually indicate sand fly (midge) bites. A lot of bites can be accumulated in a short period of time. The "Sand fly" is a group of different tiny insects, not one species. Different sand flies will be prevalent in different locations, and at different times of the year. Some people will react to one type, but not others. In Australia, biting Midges/Sandflies are not known to transmit any disease-causing pathogens to humans.

Mosquitoes will often be seen, felt, and sometimes heard. They will bite anywhere they can access flesh and have been known to bite through fabric. As some species of mosquitoes carry viruses, such as Ross River Fever, Barmah Forest Virus, and Dengue fever in tropical North Queensland, prevention is far better than treatment wherever possible. 

Authorities have been developing spraying techniques to eradicate mosquitos in urban areas. However where we mostly anchor in remote locations this is not an option and it is up to us to protect ourselves. 

Remedies fall into three categories.

* Stop the insect biting – apply before you are likely to be bitten.

* Neutralise the toxin – apply immediately you have been bitten.

* Relieve the itch – apply after the bites have developed. 

Australian First Aid practice encourages you to:

* Avoid localities that are known to be frequented with biting midges, especially at dawn and dusk.

* Anchor a minimum of 100 meters from these areas.

* Wear protective clothing in the early morning, late afternoon and evenings. This includes long sleeve pants, long sleeve shirts with a collar and closed in shoes. 

Some preventative measures you can try:

- Start burning mozzie coils just before dusk.

- When indoors, use ceiling and pedestal fans as a deterrent. Most insects don’t like air currents and will normally avoid them.

- Close up with the boat up with screens/nets and stay below during these high activity times.

- Apply tropical strength spray/lotion repellents to exposed skin. Most contain DEET (15-20%) There are many commercial options available

- KAKADU BLUE, Aussie Blue An Australian made tropical repellent.

- Apply 1/2 tspn Bushmans 80% Deet mixed with your favourite sunscreen or moisturiser.#

- Ozzie Mozzie Repellent is highly effective against most biting and annoying insects including mosquitoes which carry Ross River virus, Dengue fever and Malaria.

For those conscious about using toxins on the skin, you may prefer the natural options listed. Focus on areas such as your ankles, neck and scalp.

- Daintree Naturals offer a great mosquito and sand fly repellant. #

- Apply baby oil - This can very effective against midges/sandflies as the oil creates a barrier on the skin preventing saliva of the insect from reaching it. No saliva = no bit - no itch. (Some people alos suggest using baby oil mixed with Dettol) 

- Para Kito is an all natural pellet system that you can wear in a wrist/ankle band. They also have a system for hanging off your belt or in your cabin.

- If you do a search on the web for sandfly or midge repellents you will come up with Avon Skin-so-soft, I haven’t tried it but have read many glowing reviews, stories of use by UK Special Forces. It seems it works on the same principle as baby oil.

- Apply Lemon + Eucalyptus Oil. 

- Take high doses of B12 [1000mg] daily, at least two months before going to the location.

- Eat lots of banana, or rub inside of Banana skin to bites.

What you can do to relieve the itching once bitten:

- Camomile Tea bags heated applied to bites.

- A few drops of lavender, lemon and eucalyptus essential oil mixed with coconut oil as carrier.

- Showering before bed.

- Applying SOOV cream to the affected area/s – the “cool” in the gel takes relieves the itch.

- Calamine lotion. Ok for kids but maybe not the most suitable option for adults.

- Numbing spray for instant, short term relief.

- Tea Tree oil.

- Aloe Vera.

- VapoRub rubbed onto bites.

- Rainforest Rejuvenation If you have been bitten, this product neutralises the toxin and relieving the itch – it is a combination of natural rainforest oils and sea salt made in Kuranda, near Cairns Qld.

- Lavender oil is great for neutralising and soothing mozzie bites. 

 - Aah the wonders of vinegar – not only is it a powerful mould killer, cleaner, neutraliser of jelly fish poison and fabric softener but vinegar is an excellent neutraliser of biting insect toxins. This works for sandflies, as the toxin is in the urine they leave on your skin you can wash it off.

- Hot spoon applied to bites. The heat takes the itch away and neutralises the toxins. 

- Apply Apple Cider Vinegar to bites.

- The application of a cold compress, such as an ice pack or wet cloth will provide some relief.

- Stop Itch or Stingoes lotion from the pharmacy.

- Antihistamine. You need one specific for bites – speak to the pharmacy on which would be best. 

Some unusual remedies we have heard of:

- Liberally covering bites, with Windex,(window cleaner), it is suppose to neutralise the toxin.

- Deodorant . It seems to have some power to neutralise the bites, but mainly it stops the itch by sealing the bite from exposure to the air.

- Blue gel toothpaste, Squeeze a little bit on each bite and the menthol from the blue gel takes the heat and the sting out of the bite.

- Bicarbonate soda + water = paste applied to the bite. 

- Vegemite applied to bites. (Only in Australia we say... Seriously though some people believe it works.)

- Rub with garlic ... Apply only if sleeping alone.

- Onion rub into bite 30 minutes before a shower.

- Turmeric root rubbed into bite.

- Listerine mouth wash rubbed onto bites.

Don’t Scratch! (even if you feel it's driving you insane)

The complicating factor of sandfly and mosquito bites is they can be very, very itchy and often get infected when people scratch them excessively. Medical advice encourages you NOT to scratch your midge bites as secondary infections can occur (blisters and weeping bites which will persist for days or weeks). When first bitten, medical advice says to wash the affected area in cold water, pat dry and apply Antiseptic ointment. In many cases this will remove the initial need to scratch. If you do continue to scratch and cause blisters you may require the need for hydrocortisone cream, systemic antibiotics, as prescribed by your doctor.
If bites are itchy, and persist for more than an hour or two, they are allergies. 

If you are not treating the allergy, you will not be minimising symptoms, or minimising their duration.

Local anaesthetic creams are very helpful symptom relievers, especially when used in combination with antihistamines, and hydrocortisone cream, if required. Hydrocortisone is an invaluable adjunct to antihistamines if there is any fluid/blistery look to intact bites.

For severe or even allergic reactions – seek a GP’s professional opinion.  

Very bad cases (e.g. lots of blisters, unresponsive to effective pharmacy treatment, unbearable itch etc) need to be referred to a doctor for systemic steroids, and checked for secondary infections.

In the past, we have had crew members bitten badly which resulted in welts –special medication and steroid cream is needed to assisted them with the bites.  The cream/lotion that the doctor prescribed, once applied to the affected areas – using glad wrap put on the area, to allow the cream to really soak into the bite – leaving this overnight and it worked very well.
We had a crew member in Asia that was hospitalised for ten days. He had scratched the bites and the combination of tropical waters caused infection, resulting in blood poisoning.
Trying a number of remedies might be required as everyone is different ..... so do what is best for you!

Remember – prevention is the best medicine and go natural where you can!

For more information ... Better Health

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