Monday, July 08, 2002

You won't see 'um, but they will bug you

In My Life

By Raymond Ekvall
Special to the Enquirer

        My wife and I are snowbirds and have gone to Florida for a few weeks in the winter and early spring for a number of years. Soon after our arrival this year, we knew there was something different and very, very wrong and we want to warn you potential vacationers about it.

        Within about 24 hours of our arrival, infuriatingly itchy red welts about 1/4-inch in diameter began appearing on our bodies. At first we thought mosquitoes were the cause, but neither of us had seen or heard any.


    Raymond Ekvall lives in Wyoming with his wife Shirley. Mr. Ekvall is retired and Mrs. Ekvall works for the University of Cincinnati.
        We started asking around and learned we were dealing with “no-see-ums.” This is an apt name for these flying insects based on their virtual invisibility.

        No-see-ums, we learned, have several other aliases, including sand flies and “punkies,” depending on what area of the country you encounter them. Biting midges is the more correct name. The insects are tiny, two-winged flies. If you are fortunate enough to actually see one on your skin before it attacks, it will appear as a tiny spec.

        We were shocked to learn that even when we were in our apartment with a screened-in balcony and screened windows we were being bitten with the same maddeningly itchy consequences. My wife believed the no-see-ums must be in our bedding since the status of our skin condition was worse every morning. She insisted on washing the bed linen every day. The situation did not improve.

        Feeling quite helpless, very much under attack and quite angry at having our vacation spoiled, we began a serious investigation. We learned that special screens were required for the no-see-ums. We puzzled over how one could design the proper screen mesh size for something that was virtually invisible ... We wondered if the apartment would have to be positively pressurized so that the no-see-ums couldn't stream inside when the apartment door was opened to allow delivery people to pass food and medicine into us.

        Since we were renting, neither the screens nor a positively pressurized apartment were available to us. We asked a lot of people how to protect ourselves and minimize the itchy collateral damage. We received well-meaning — and contradictory — advice.

        In growing frustration, we called the county health department. That staffer had no recommendations since no-see-ums are not disease-carrying insects for humans in this part of the world.

        We then e-mailed an impassioned “Cry for Help” to the county cooperative extension service (CES).

        We were grateful to the CES for the information it soon provided. Here is that advice, and our personal learnings:

        • DEET is the most commonly used repellent for sand flies. “When applied properly, it will provide protection for two hours up to 12 hours,” the CES information said. Several people recommended Avon's Skin So Soft, which we were able to find. We understand it was not designed to be an insect repellent, but it worked well for us.

        • If you don't have protective screening, keep your windows and doors shut and keep the temperature low since no-see-ums are less active in cool air.

        • Temporary relief of itching may be achieved with nonprescription local anesthetics available at drug stores. The CES said studies have shown that meat tenderizer, rubbed into the welts, will alleviate itching.

        Because of our exposure to the world of the no-see-ums, we have dropped the use of the words rapprochement, neutrality and forgiveness when discussing relations with no-see-ums and we have retooled the definition of liar as follows: A liar is someone who, the day after he spent a couple of hours at dusk or dawn near the beach on a windless warm day just after a rain shower with some bare skin exposed and no insect protection, looks you straight in the eye and says, “I've never been bitten by a no-see-um.” Wherever you go on vacation, including foreign countries, be sure to ask — prior to leaving home and immediately after arriving — if there are no-see-ums (or any of its aliases) in the area.

        And take some protection and treatment along with you, just in case. Bon voyage.

       Share recent moments in your life. Fax 768-8330; e-mail: Columns submitted to the Enquirer may be published or distributed in print, electronic or other forms.


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