ABYM #20: Never Forget To Put Permethrin On Your Clothes

Posted: February 10, 2012 in ABYM Rules
Tags: , , , ,

Permethrin is my absolute favorite pyrethroid, and it is absolutely essential if you are going to be working or living in the tropics.

The chemical prolongs sodium channel activation which is a fancy way of saying it kicks the ass out of bugs. Here there are mosquitoes galore, but because the part of Nicaragua I live in is really dry, we have a crap ton of ticks. The ticks (garapatas) range in two varieties, big and small. The big ones are nasty looking, and physically hurt when they bite you, however their size makes them easy to spot, low in numbers and easy to remove. Not to mention they don’t carry lime disease. The small red ones however are very difficult to spot (about the size of a grain of salt), carry lime disease, and don’t alert you when they are biting you.

This is where your permethrin comes in. After soaking your clothes with the bottled solution, it will kill any insects small enough to get full body contact with the treated clothing. This takes care of the small garapatas and mosquitoes easily, some ants, and a few other bugs. It does not kill the large garapatas nor does it kill the really nasty Olusicas (I’ll get to those later.)

Permethrin is amazing, but you always need to remember that it is a neurotoxin. I made the mistake of underestimating the efficacy of the spray once and I definitely won’t make the same mistake again. I had decided to spray down the curtains in my room as that’s where the mosquitoes liked to congregate. Normally you only ever use this stuff outdoors, but with a whole field day and a powerful fan in my room I figured I would be ok. I did not however count on being turned around at the head of the trail by a landowner, and being forced into an office day. The machine that I  use to analyze rocks is a pain in the ass to set up and move. For this reason its permanent resting place is on my desk, in my room…..10 feet from the poison soaked curtains I sprayed 60 minutes prior.

Now, I had thought about the consequences, but as I could barely smell it anymore, had a fan going, and (most importantly) was too lazy to move the machine, I decided I would risk it.

Later that night I had some tightness in my chest and a little trouble sleeping, but nothing major. The next morning was a different story. It felt like bronchitis but with really intense muscle tightness in my chest. Now by this time I had figured out what was causing it, and was prepared to easily work around it with another office day.

Un…….fortunately that was the same day we all ate the eggs that gave me salmonella…..

When it rains it pours down here.


  1. D says:

    Yeah, the CDC recommends it, so I’ve been using it, but I saw an ant scampering on my freshly soaked polyester pants, and then a couple weeks later I watched a mosquito land on and bite through those same pants. I waited about 15 seconds and then tried to squash it, but it flew off. Maybe sunlight had photodegraded the permethrin?

    Anyway, where I can buy permethrin/permetrina in Central America? I have a tiny amount of Sawyer MSS remaining and have been asking for more at the pharmacies, but they’ve never heard of it.

    • Yeah, it isnt perfect but I have had a lot of success using it. Sometimes in the field when I catch a tick I will put him on my pants to watch the effects. On a freshly sprayed pair of pants they can climb from my shoes almost to my waist, but by the time they get there they are walking sideways and easily fall off. Whereas untreated you literally have to pick them off with your fingernails. Used in conjunction with a DEET repelleant you have a drunk tick who doesnt have the urge to bite.
      Also they do not sell it in Latin America, you have to buy it elsewhere. Possibly in some of the more developed nations you can find it but certainly not in Nicaragua.
      Lastly, definitely use it outside, haha

  2. D says:

    More: They do have permethrin paste for head lice. Not sure what that would do to my clothes.

  3. D says:

    BTW, I made the mistake of soaking the clothes in my room overnight. Felt nauseous.

  4. D says:

    Update: Proagro (a Nicaraguan chain of agricultural supply stores) sells small bottles labeled “permetrina”. I didn’t write down the full chemical formula, so I don’t know if their version of permethrin is exactly the same stuff as Sawyer uses. However, I found out about Proagro from a guy who was spraying the inside of the building I was staying in. He said he was using permetrina from Proagro.

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