Winter travel and the Zika Virus

Updated on December 10, 2016

Joe ConlonBy Joe Conlon

Attention snowbirds, holiday travelers and people who just aren’t ready to ditch their flip fops! As fall kicks into high gear in the northern states, with some areas even seeing their first snowstorms, and we prepare for chillier temps to set in, many of us will start planning ways to escape Mother Nature’s winter wrath. 

Fall and winter are not without their benefits. The time of year affords brisk walks without the incessant need to slap away the flying nuisances. Mosquito season blissfully comes to an end and the fear of bites drops to zero. 

However if you are looking to travel to warmer climes, don’t be complacent. With warnings of the Zika virus continuing in the news, it is best to prepared. Especially if your fun adventure falls into or near a Zika hot zone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have already been 3,951 travel-associated Zika infections in the U.S., and that number is likely to increase. So how best can you protect yourself and enjoy your vacation? Don’t stress the experts have weighed in below about the best spray and non-spray options that will help you win the war against mosquitoes.  

1. Over-the-counter bug spray

When it comes to spray, not all brands are created equal. Consumer Reports found that products containing 20 percent picaridin, or 25 percent DEET, were the most effective. Which to use? According to the CDC, repellents containing DEET offer the best protection against mosquito bites. However, picaridin is deemed less toxic. 

2. Specially-treated clothing

“The military has been using clothing impregnated with a repellent called permethrin for decades, and the technology—called Insect Shield—is EPA-registered and available to consumers,” says Joe Conlon, medical entomologist and technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association. Conlon notes that the consumer version lasts for about 70 washings and is also highly effective against ticks. Insect Shield sells its clothing online, and you can also send in your own clothing to them to be treated. The technology is also widely available—embedded in other manufacturer’s clothing. Permethrin can also be purchased in a spray format to use to treat your own clothing. 

3. Herbs and Essential Oils

Essential oils—including citronella, rose geranium, and lemon—can also effective for repelling insects. Just mix these oils with water and use in a spray bottle. Another option is chewing on plants or eating foods in the Allium family. Wild leeks and chives, which emit a pungent odor that insects don’t like, effective as well. So is garlic! You may have strong breath, but don’t hold back on that garlicy Italian dinner – it just might help ward off the mosquitoes. 

4. Light-colored clothing and gear

Whether it’s a tent, sleeping bag, or clothes, pick light colors. Mosquitoes like dark colors, and can often bite through fabric. Instead, wear clothes in white, beige, or light khaki colors and choose these colors for camping and hiking gear (tents and duffel bags). Always remember to wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and socks at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

5. Sunscreen and repellant combo

Wearing sunscreen with bug repellent mixed in can be a smart and easy way to ward off mosquitoes, but you don’t want to overdo it. Instead of applying it all day, save a combo sunscreen for late afternoon, when you’re ready to apply your last dose of for the day. “During the day you should be applying sunscreen frequently, but you don’t want to apply DEET or even natural repellents more often than is recommended,” says Conlon. Instead, he advises using two different products—regular sunscreen for daytime, and then a combo sunscreen for end of day.


One final piece of advice: Look for an EPA registration number—usually on the back label—on any repellent you’re considering buying. To get it, a product has to undergo extensive testing for safety and effectiveness. “If it hasn’t been EPA-registered,” says Conlon, “I would not use it.”

A core mission of the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) is informing the public about mosquito biology and acceptable methods of control. It is extremely important that the public be supplied with reliable, scientifically-based information upon which to make informed choices. To this end, the AMCA contracts the services of a medical entomologist to serve as AMCA spokesperson and handle all media inquiries. The contract position, termed “Technical Advisor”, is currently held by Joseph M. Conlon a retired US Navy entomologist with extensive worldwide experience in mosquito control during a 25 year career in entomology.

Mr. Conlon has presented 73 invited papers on vector control to universities, national, regional and state mosquito control, medical and public health associations and has published 41 articles on vector control in refereed journals and trade publications. In addition, he has served as president of the Mid-Atlantic Mosquito Control Association (1998-1999) and Virginia Mosquito Control Association (1996-1997). His expertise has been further recognized during 2 appearances to provide testimony regarding mosquito control and West Nile virus issues before the US Congress.

Mr. Conlon has extensive media experience and has appeared on FOX News Channel, Lou Dobbs Tonight, ABC Nightly News, ‘Encounters with the Unexplained”, along with countless live radio interviews. Mr. Conlon recently completed two satellite media tours, with live broadcast interviews to 27 markets nationwide.


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