What are the best, most effective, safest insect repellents for Africa?
There is a myriad of insect repellent manufacturers, brands, ingredient concentrations in sprays, creams, sticks, wipes, odour-free, combinations with sunscreens etc etc.
The answer is to use what suits you best and works for you but you would be strongly urged not to use 'alternative', 'natural' repellents as your first line of defence, if you are hunting in a malarial area. Malaria falciparum can be a deadly disease and it only takes 1 bite from 1 mosquito to be struck down. The other brands of malaria are none too pleasant though not quite so dangerous.
Preventing Insect Bites
You can expect a good African hunting outfitter to provide an insect proof tent (if you are going to a tented camp), insect window screening (if you are going to a permanent chalet camp) and a can of Doom. Short of this, it's up to you to protect yourself from insect bites which is especially important in malarial areas of Africa.
So unless you genuinely react badly to a DEET-based insect repellent the following measures offer the best personal protection against malaria...
TAKE THE APPROPRIATE ANTI MALARIAL DRUG FOR THE AREA
MEDIUM TO STRONG CONCENTRATION OF DEET BASED REPELLENT
PERMETHRIN IMPREGNATED CLOTHING
Use all the herbal oils, sprays, soaps, garlic capsules, citronella and lemon eucalyptus concoctions in addition, if you wish.
Protection Against Mosquitoes
If you are worried about malaria, choose to hunt in a non-malarial area. There are plenty of hunts available in RSA in non-malarial areas.
If you are going to a malarial or border-line malarial area, check with the outfitter whether mosquito nets are provided. In some tented camps and chalet camps, nets are not provided as the whole tent/room is considered insect proof. If you want to bring your own mosquito net check whether the net design will work with the beds in the camp and that there is a way of hanging it.
A good quality permethrin impregnated net is better than a plain one. Tuck it in securely and any repair holes promptly. A good quick fix for holes is a band aid sticking plaster. Don't sleep with your skin touching the net, if possible - mosquitoes can stick their proboscis through the mesh.
Even if the area is not malarial you may want a mosquito net for protection against any other nocturnal insect bites.
Wear long sleeves and long trousers after dark as mosquitoes primarily feed between dusk and dawn.
Pay particular attention to ankle protection by wearing socks or ankle boots in the evening. If you can't bear to relax in boots and socks, smother your feet and ankles in repellent.
Use your personal insect repellent on all exposed skin areas.
Wear light coloured clothes in the evening as it has been suggested that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours.
Wear clean clothes in the evening, especially socks as mosquitoes are attracted to sweat.
If your chalet has air-conditioning or a ceiling fan, keep it on in the evening to lower the room temperature which deters mosquitoes. Keep the windows shut.
Don't forget your precautions in a hotel in town before or after the hunt. You are equally likely to get bitten in a 5 star hotel in Dar es Salaam as in a hunting camp.
Have you ever wondered about mosquito boots which are often mentioned in hunting books of old? These were high canvas and leather boots with a drawstring around the calf, worn by the military, explorers and hunters in Africa in the first half of the 20th century. There was also a similar, rather good-looking suede boot, used by the military to protect against 'sand fleas' which are actually sand flys - blood-sucking, flying insects which spreads cutaneous leishmaniasis. Mosquito boots are mentioned in the massive packing list of John McCutcheon's 1909 safari.
Insect Repellents For Mosquitoes
DEET Based Insect Repellents
Deet (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) repels the mosquito by interfering with their sense organs or antennae which locate their victims. It is available in many preparations - lotions, sticks, gels, creams, aerosol sprays and in various strengths.
Deet is usually applied directly on exposed skin.
Deet may also be applied to cotton clothing in vulnerable areas like wrist and ankles, in the form of elastic wrist and ankle bands, or applied around a collar for neck protection. Impregnated head netting gives good protection also. If the bands or netting are stored in a sealed bag, the Deet remains effective for several weeks.
Deet also protects against other insects such as ticks.
Apply carefully to avoid eyes and mouth.
Watch for any adverse reactions and stop using if you get a serious reaction.
Deet is harmful to plastics and paint.
Concentrations of less than 10% must be used on children 2-12 years of age.
For adults, the weaker the concentration of Deet, the shorter the time of protection. For example, 23.8% Deet will work for about 5 hours. However, there is a limit to the time of protection - 100% Deet concentration may only provide protection for about 10 hours.
A combination of 33.3% Deet PLUS permethrin impregnated clothing will provide about 8 hours protection under severe mosquito pressure.
Permethrin Insect Repellents
Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide and kills mosquitoes on contact by destroying their nerve cells.
Permethrin must not be applied directly to the skin.
Permethrin products for clothes contain 0.5% permethrin.
Insect repellent clothes (for example, the Buzz Off range) are available which are impregnated with permethrin.
Ready-impregnated garments are said to provide protection for the duration of 25 washes.
Ready Permethrin-impregnated mosquito nets are available or you can treat a plain net with a Permethrin spray.
Permethrin-impregnated clothing also repels ticks.
Natural Mosquito Repellents
There are dozens of 'natural' or herbal insect repellent products that are credited with mosquito repellent properties including essential oils of Geranium, Cedar, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Citronella, Clove, Lemon Eucalyptus, Castor, Lemongrass and Peppermint.
However, certain factors can lower their effectiveness. They evaporate quickly in high temperatures; get diluted with sweat and some sunscreens lower their potency. Consequently 'natural' insect repellents need to be reapplied very frequently - at least 2 hourly.
Other Mosquito Repellent Items
Mosquito repellent coils and vaporizing mats are all good measures to add to the repellent armoury for inside your room.
Electronic anti-mosquito buzzers have been proved to be useless.
Deet and permethrin work to repel ticks.
A really good tick repellent/killer is the Bayticol fabric spray aerosol. It kills ticks on contact with treated clothing and lasts for about 2-3 washes. If you are hunting RSA or Namibia it's worth stopping off at a local farm equipment or outdoors shop to buy a can.
Tuck your trousers legs into your socks and boots.
Lighter coloured clothing makes spotting ticks easier.
Get used to examining your body regularly while on your hunt (and afterwards) and developing good tick removal technique.
Tsetse Fly Repellents
There is still no consistently effective repellent for these flies from hell that bite through anything.
All kinds of scientific studies have been done to try and find an effective repellent including testing various concentrations of Deet and Permethrin on different coloured clothing. Blue is a very attractive colour to tsetse flies, so best avoided at all times when hunting in tsetse country. The upshot of one study found that a permethrin impregnated mesh jacket reduced the biting rate by 75%.
Some hunters have found products that seem to work for them with tsetse fly.
- this was a regular Avon skin product that was found by chance to have insect repellent properties. Avon has now developed the product into 'Bug Guard' range which includes towelettes and aerosols.
and Water (30% Dettol) mixture, applied very frequently. This would be best brewed first and decanted into a spray bottle.
Some safari-goers swear by Skeeter Beater
insect repellent for tsetses.
Tuck your trousers legs into your socks and boots
Avoid bright and strong coloured clothing especially blue
They are very attracted to moving vehicles so are a particular nuisance in and on the hunting truck. When you are being attacked by a big swarm, a blast of Doom may be a welcome but short-lived respite.
Meanwhile you will be reduced to driving yourself mad swatting yourself and your friends to prevent the painful bite.
Fortunately there are generally not a lot of tsetse flies in a hunting camp. You may get the odd few in your tent - so swat and spray with Doom. They generally come into camp on your body and on the hunting vehicle when you return in the evening.
Whatever you choose as insect repellents for Africa, make sure you actually use them. You won't believe the number of unopened bottles of insect repellents we have been given by hunters over the years, when they offload items for their return journey.