It’s true, I saw a tick once. It wasn’t on me but I observed it during a hike. And if there’s one thing I just won’t stand for it’s Lyme Disease… and encephalitis. That’s all I could think of while planning for a recent hiking trip deep in the woods of upstate NY. Project-protection-overboard was born.

I only ever wear shorts (and risk leg exposure) within the confines of dense tree canopy–this is how one protects ones patellar solar virginity*. So my initial, half-baked plan involved covering every exposed appendage with citronella style bug-bracelets. I’ve used these devices in the past without much thought, say, in a park or backyard, but this was the woods I was preparing for. And I saw a tick once.

In between being disappointed by the bug-bracelets’ apparent (in)efficacy (according to online reviews) and looking for bulk deals I had two thoughts: One, ‘what would happen if I just bought concentrated citronella oil and bathed in it**?’ And Two, ‘what’s up with all the ‘does not contain DEET’ propaganda on these products? I’ve used products containing DEET before, should I be afraid for the safety of my unborn grandchildren or is this just another case of pandering to chemophobes***?’

Here’s a fact: DEET was developed in the ’40′s for jungle warfare and you can still buy it today in 100% concentration****. Let me repeat that, Jungle. Warfare. Shut up and take my money– I saw a tick once. When used as directed the safety and efficacy of DEET has been verified time and again and then again. The EPA reassessed DEET in 1998, did extensive toxicity testing, and concluded that it does not present a health concern. Added bonus, it seems children (over 2 months) are no more sensitive to it than adults. And there’s no evidence that it’s even a carcinogen. Bacon can’t even make that claim, and everybody loves bacon. So after all this you may be thinking ‘DEET sounds awesome, imma put some on my cereal.’ Well just don’t do that. Health effects and the occasional mortality resulting from misuse (over exposure, deliberate ingestion etc) is probably what led to all the anti-DEET propaganda I was wading through to begin with. Observe this particular gem of doing it wrong:

In the other case, a 30-year-old man applied DEET daily to a rash as a means of self-medication. After application to half of his body, he would enter a home-made sauna for up to 90 minutes. He would exit and apply the repellent to the other side of his body and repeat. These treatments continued for a week, and he was noted to be lethargic and incoherent following the treatments. After his final treatment, he developed grandiose delusions and became verbally aggressive, irritable and belligerent. He was treated in the hospital with various drugs and his condition improved by the 6th day. He was discharged on the 10th day and did not have recurrence of symptoms (Snyder et al. 1986).

I sure hope his rash cleared up.

In the end I didn’t need to go overboard at all. Before my hike I used DEET on my exposed skin and natural fiber clothing and ventured into the wilderness smelly, shiny-skinned and ready. I didn’t get a single bite. And my knees returned safely to their pant-prison without incident.


avatar-maki-leftStill not a fan of DEET? If you live in the southeast US and enjoy steak, you may want to reconsider. The National Institute of Health recently linked tick bites to the production of  antibodies that make you allergic to red meat. This is the first time I’ve heard of a bite/sting that bestows an allergic reaction to anything other than the biter/stinger, and it’s a fascinating case study in immunology. Next time somebody offers to “boost” your immune system, just tell them you’re happy with it as it is.

As far as parasitic animals go, I’ve had my fair share. I’m not talking Mark “I gave birth to bot-fly larvae” Moffett levels, but I did spend a lot of time in rural Virginia as a kid. Coming home, it wasn’t surprising to open your bag and have all manner of jumping hitchhiker pop out. Nor was it uncommon to find a tick suckling from your armpit a week later. Thankfully, they were the crazy big ticks1. I say that because, in an asshole move by mother nature, it’s deer ticks—which are impossibly tiny and hard to see—that carry lyme disease.

The worst were the awkwardly named chiggers, though. Think about a rash. Now think that rash is caused by larvae forming skin straws inside your body and sucking the nutrients out. Now wake up from your fever dream. Now realize that it wasn’t a dream and slather some hydrocortisone on that crap. If you go hiking without proper cover, DEET, and (to be safe) prayers to some ancient mollusk god, you’re going to have a bad time. And this was all while trying to watch out for venomous snakes, bears, and plant life.

The bears weren’t venomous. Though, the plants were. Or is poison ivy poisonous? It puts the badness right on your skin…I’m not sure.


*Important in some cultures, probably.

**remains unanswered

***Para-menthane-3 8-diol = RAWR!   Lemon Eucalyptus = Sunshine and happy emoticons.

**** The more concentrated your DEET, the longer (not harder) it works. 100% will give you a whopping 12 hours, while citronella will give you marginal efficiency and less than half the duration.

1 I know, right? Hope you’re all NOPEing