It's too bad I didn't try it out right away. The day before I left for Michigan in mid-July, I got into the car for my commute to work and emerged 45 minutes later with seven mosquito bites on my right leg, thanks to some uninvited hitchhikers. I apparently hadn't lost my allure. That night, I drove home with my windows down and the moon roof wide open, wondering whether one of my riders carried West Nile virus.
Last year, 2,448 people in the U.S. were infected with West Nile, and 84 died, including 27 in California, according to health department reports. As of Aug. 5, 102 cases and two deaths had been reported in the state this year, although the peak transmission season is from late summer to early fall. "We've seen fewer cases so far," said Aaron Brault, assistant professor with the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases. "But we're just getting started. The cooler spring probably delayed things." Indeed, the year's total jumped 59% in the week prior to Aug. 5.
Laughing not allowed
EAGER to start the test, I put on my anti-mosquito garb as soon as I arrived in northern Michigan. My hostess burst out laughing.
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"Let's just say it's not your finest hour. You look like a beekeeper in that hat."
"It could be worse," I replied. "I could have bought a veil made of mosquito netting to cover my face."
It was nearly sunset -- the mosquito world's happy hour. We walked out on the dock to watch a fiery red ball sink into a purple horizon. Five mosquitoes zipped by me, circling and then going on. I yipped in glee.
The hostess asked, "What are you doing?"
"The mosquitoes flew by me. They're coming your way."
She started slapping the air. "I don't think this test is a very good idea."
I just laughed. The stupid-looking hat was vindicated.
During my week at the lake, I sat on the dock five evenings in my mosquito wear, daring the pests to catch me if they could. They came, but I conquered. I ended the week bite-free.
Label information on the garments and their hang-tags tell purchasers they may need to apply insecticides to parts of the body that aren't covered by the clothing. That wasn't necessary for my North Woods test, but I may have felt differently if I'd been in Florida's Everglades or on Alaska's Denali.
I found a couple of occasions when I didn't want to wear the clothing -- kayaking (too restrictive) and at an outdoor symphony concert (too goofy), so I held my nose and sprayed on the DEET. It worked too.
Magellan and L.L. Bean representatives say Buzz Off garments are selling well. The clothing is "flying out of here," said Mary Rose MacKinnon of L.L. Bean. The Greensboro company that developed the process (www.buzzoff.com) says it has received few complaints.
"One fellow in Iraq said that it didn't work for him," said Gail Howell, a Buzz Off spokeswoman. "We sent him some new things to try. A few people have said that it causes a rash if they're sweating, but it goes away."
The apparel has been tested and registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning it has undergone "an evaluation to ensure that it does not pose an unreasonable risk to people or the environment," said agency representative Enesta Jones.
One downside: The bonding process lasts through only 25 washings and is destroyed if clothing is dry-cleaned. But my clothing washed well. I was happy about that after my first night at home. I awakened to find I'd received 15 goodnight kisses from mosquitoes that must have been breeding in my bedroom while I was gone.
The next night, I wore my yellow Buzz Off T-shirt to bed instead of a nightgown. No more bites. The little vampires must have sought their nightcap elsewhere.
Rosemary McClure can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.