I am going to Kenya next month- hiking thru all terrains- and I'm a bit (a lot) concerned with the bug situation. I've got an immune deficiency in which vaccines don't always work in my body, so I'm looking for the best protection from yellow-fever and malaria-ridden bugs as possible. I don't wear repellent and generally don't get bitten much in the states. But that being said...
Does anyone have a tried and true alternative to DEET?
Or should I suck it up and go with the chemicals?
Something to bear in mind: Malaria kills approx 20 million people per year. Potential cancer as a result of DEET exposure is responsible for an inconceivably small fraction of that. Use the stuff that works, and don't risk getting something that actually does murder millions.
But if I were going to Africa and had an immune deficiency, there's no way I'd take a chance. I'd use Deet.
I've made three trips to Kenya -- highlands, Maasai Mara, Nairobi, Eldoret, Kitale, Kajiado, Mombasa. I didn't notice many bugs during the day. I felt like I needed repellent only at night. I took a lotion with DEET (less than 10% I think) and slathered it on before bed. The buzzing in your ears is the worst. Use a net if it's available.
You can get a yellow fever vaccine.
Enjoy your trip! Stock up on Dormans blue mountain coffee while you're there.
I use a home-made tick and mosquito repellant: about 30 drops each of geranium, citronella and lavender essential oil in a base of a couple ounces of grapeseed oil. I would NOT rely on this in Africa but it works pretty well in my tick-infested yard as long as I re-apply every few hours.
I wonder if there was something non-chemical that the locals use that works. Short of that DEET is probably a necessary measure.
Also helpful to repel biting insects: avoiding anything that spikes the blood sugar and eating lots of raw garlic.
I lived in Central America for a year and was in areas that were very malarial inflicted - I also have friends who are scientists who work on malaria. My advice to you stems from what they gave me in addition to my own research. I would definitely recommend that you talk to a specific travel/health doctor before leaving as they will be more familiar with what you will be up against rather than a regular doctor. Scour WHO and the CDC for the most current information on the area you'll be in. Long sleeved shirts, long pants, hats. Tuck your pants into your boots/socks. Tuck your shirt in. Use DEET, sorry, and spray all your clothes including your boots, mosquito net, etc. I believe the product I used was by Sawyer. I also took Mefloquine with me. I have a friend who contracted Malaria and from hearing personal account on what he had to go through? You don't want it. Take care and good luck!
Reactions to mefloquine are very perosnal. I've taken it for 3 Tera straight with not problems. You can also take malarone, but it is very, very expensive and not covered by insurance. It is effective and has lower risk of side effects.
Mosquitos are generally worst at dusk and dawn, so pay particular attention then.
Natural stuff does exist, tho' it's not as effective as Deet and needs to be reapplied very frequently.
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus is supposedly effective, but I have not used it personally.
I've had good luck with Picaridin based repellents, still a chemical, but works as well as (or better than) DEET, does not reek like DEET, and does not melt plastic like DEET, doesn't irritate skin like DEET. You can get Natrapel wipes and sprays at most outdoor/camping stores. The most common truly natural alternatives usually include mixes of Citronella (lemongrass), Geranium, Lavender, Peppermint, and/or Eucalyptus oils. The biggest difference between repellents is not so much effectiveness, but how often you need to re-apply the repellents. Even if you are taking an anti-malarial, you still want a repellent, malaria is not the only parasite mosquitoes carry and there's enough other bloodsuckers out there that can pass on some nasty things.
As a side note, Campsuds makes a bio-degradable camping soap with Citronella, Lavender, and Peppermint oils that keeps the bugs off of you while you shower (and leaves you smelling minty-fresh). Otherwise, Dr. Bronner's Lavender is a classic standby.
This is (most likely) overkill, but as a backup measure, I often get a Permethrin (another chemical, generally "safe" around people and dogs, BUT toxic to cats) based clothing treatment. Sawyer seems the easiest to get hold of.
I've had the best luck with Malarone, one of the more expensive anti-malarials, but doesn't have the nasty side effects of the 'quines and doesn't wreck your gut flora like (the MUCH cheaper) Doxycycline (broad spectrum anti-biotic [leaves me exhausted with the full run of symptoms you would expect from a harsh antibiotic regimen]). Note that with any anti-malarial, you really don't want to be taking them for the long term (usually one to two months at the most).
I had a friend pass away about 6 weeks ago from malaria. He visited Ghana, was infected, and died after he returned to the United States. Take the safe route. Spray yourself, use nets, listen to your guide, and immediately go to the doctor at any hint of symptoms. (For anyone else reading this thread who is traveling in a malaria zone!)
Here in the US where even West Nile is not a huge concern, I use a spray from a local guy when I can't avoid being out at peak times. His spray contains glycerin, lavender, lemongrass, citronella, and some other essential oils.