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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Itch-Free Summer

Ten ways to avoid bug bites and what to do if bitten.

by: BACKPACKER Editors

One thing we can always count on during summer hikes is bugs. Here's how to protect yourself and your children from insects.

  1. COVER UP. Cover your skin as completely as possible. Wear shoes, long sleeves and long pants with the cuffs tucked into socks.

  2. BE COLOR CONSCIOUS. Wear khaki or neutral colors. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, especially blue.

  3. USE GOOD SENSE. Heavily scented toiletries are an attraction for bugs and bees. Avoid using scented soaps, lotions and shampoos.

  4. USE REPELLENT. Like sunscreen, insect repellent is an outdoor essential. Apply the proper insect repellent to clothing and any uncovered skin.

    DEET Repellents: Repellents containing DEET are most effective. Most outdoor excursions call for a moderate DEET concentration, 20-30 percent. For areas with heavy mosquito or tick infestation, a stronger concentration is more effective. Some brands offer concentrations with more 94 percent DEET. For safe and effective use of DEET products:
    - Be sure to follow the product directions.
    - If used with a sunscreen, apply the repellent 30 minutes to one hour after the sunscreen.
    - Never use repellents on wounds or irritated skin.
    - Wash any residual repellent off the skin when the exposure to insects has passed or when coming inside.

    Alternative Repellents: If you're concerned about using a chemical repellent, try one that uses citronella as its active ingredient. Citronella is a natural repellent that rebuffs bugs by confusing their sense of direction and stifling their appetite.

  5. BE PREPARED. Always carry repellents in your car's glove compartment or backpack.

  6. AVOID BUGGY SPOTS. Mosquitoes like cool, moist places. Avoid stagnant pools of water whenever possible. Some popular breeding grounds include puddles, birdbaths and inside old tires. Flies tend to hover around animals and sweets; black flies are attracted to dark, moving objects; hornets nest in trees and bushes; yellow jackets are drawn to food and generally nest in the ground. Bees appear to sting when the weather is gray rather than when the sun is out.

  7. PICK GOOD TIMES. Be alert to the time of day when certain insects are most active. Black flies are more prevalent in the morning, mosquitoes tend to bite at dawn and twilight and deerflies are prevalent at midday.

  8. KID SAFETY. Children are vulnerable to bug bites because of their size. They are closer to the ground and to flowers and plants that harbor insects and are thus easier targets. Make sure they are protected with proper clothing, and with insect repellents that are appropriate to children. If using a repellent with DEET, don't apply it to the hands of children who tend to put their fingers in their mouth. And again, bathe your children when they return indoors for the night to remove any remaining repellent.

  9. CHECK FOR BITES. Upon returning indoors, check your children and yourself for bites, especially tick bites. If you find a tick, carefully remove it by grasping its head with tweezers and pulling straight up. To reduce risk of infection, clean the tick bite with hydrogen peroxide. Be alert for the next 30 days for either a "bulls-eye" rash (a red ring with a white center) at the site of the bite or flu-like symptoms. The presence of either one might signify Lyme Disease and should prompt a visit to your physician.

  10. DON'T SCRATCH. Impetigo, a common disease among children that can spread through the whole family, usually begins when a child scratches a bug bite or other small break in the skin. If a bug bite does occur, quickly apply an insect bite treatment.

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