In a couple of days I'll be kicking off 60-plus days of trekking through Central and South America. Unlike my trips through less tropical climates, I've placed more focus on decreasing the probability of coming back looking like a pin cushion for mosquitoes.
Aside from the uncomfortable itchy and scratchy feeling of mosquito bites, there's the important health component. With dengue fever, filariasis, malaria, eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, mayaro virus, and other arthropod-borne illnesses endemic to certain regions of Central and South America, knowing the basic preventative measures can be a trip -- if not life -- saver.
Besides using mosquito repellent, getting the appropriate vaccines, wearing long sleeves and pants and using bed nets, another easy preventative measure is treating your clothes and gear with permethrin prior to embarking on your adventure.
Permethrin is an insecticide that repels and kills arthropods (e.g., ticks, mosquitoes, etc.). It is safe for humans under typical usages (it's been used by the U.S. military for decades) and retains its repellency even after multiple washings. You can purchase pre-treated clothing and gear. Alternatively, you can hop over to a local REI, online to Amazon, or your other favorite retailer, where you can purchase permethrin and DIY.
If you're in the latter group, keep the following in mind:
- Stay ventilated. Permethrin doesn't smell that great so do the treatment in a well ventilated area. If outside, stand so the wind is blowing the permethrin away from you.
- Cover your cuffs. Make sure you cover the cuffs of your pants and shirts. Unless, of course, you don't mind mosquitoes entering through those areas.
- Zip it. After treating your clothes with permethrin, seal them in a ziploc bag for a couple hours. This will give more time for the permethrin to attach to the fabric before drying out.
- Be gentle. When washing your clothes, use the gentle/delicate cycle. This will slow down the detachment of the permethrin from the clothing fabric.
- Zip It Again. Permethrin breaks down when exposed to sunlight and air. Once you've completed the treatment, store your clothes somewhere dark (e.g., ziploc bag in your backpack) to lengthen the lifetime of the permethrin.