Two mosquito species known to carry chikungunya, dengue and Zika viruses have been reported in more counties and states across the Southern United States. (Dreamstime/TNS)
By Tom Stienstra
June 26, 201
They came in the night, while I was asleep and vulnerable. They attacked in squadrons, one after another.
It started in darkness, when I turned in my sleep on a warm night at camp and exposed my right arm to the naked air. For the mosquitoes, it must have been like a school of great white sharks picking up the scent of blood from miles away. As I slept, I was nailed about 30 times between elbow and wrist. It looked as though the attackers spiked my arm with an ice pick.
In areas prone to mosquitoes, this is shaping up as a big year. In the high country, just below the snow line, warm weather is melting snow and creating pools that are fostering swarms. Many places, though, are fine — mainly those without pools, bogs and marshes, the prime breeding habitat for mosquitoes.
One of the worst sites in California is in Lassen National Forest at a little-traveled region called the Thousand Lakes Wilderness.
There are seven lakes there, not a thousand. But the rocky landscape is filled with thousands of pockets, and after big snow years and then hot weather, like last week’s, those pockets fill with water. You can scan across the mountain country for miles and it appears to be speckled with thousands of small pools and pockets of water.
On warm nights, like last week in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness, a heavy sleeper might fall asleep out in the open, turn and expose an arm, and wake up nearly drained of blood.
All the defenses are obvious and well chronicled. Don’t go to places that are infested, and if you run into mosquitoes, expose a minimum of skin and spray repellent on your clothes and skin that is exposed. Some wear a repellent-laden bandanna around their necks, which is popular in Canada. There are many personal remedies, such as eating bananas (mosquitoes don’t like potassium) or garlic (ditto).
Once bitten in wilderness, a trick to stop the itching is to pour hot water on the bites, then immerse the affected area in very cold water. Seems to work.
You’re better off, of course, camping in a tent, a bivy with a net in wilderness, or an RV or camper at a park, and not letting the mosquitoes use your exposed flesh for a feast.