With the warm temperatures and significant rainfall, this may be a particularly bad year for mosquitoes, according to Joe Conlon, an entomologist and technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association.
Although the summer is nearing its end, much of the country’s mosquito season is just now hitting its peak — from late July to early August. Conlon notes that most West Nile transmission tends to occur between late summer and early fall and warns that you can’t predict where it will occur from year to year.
“Just because it hasn’t been seen in an area for a little while doesn’t mean it has gone away,” he explains. “The CDC says West Nile is not going away.”
That means protection is key.
Use a repellent or pesticide
The CDC recommends a repellent that has been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“This means it has undergone rigorous testing that shows it’s safe to use according to the directions and works,” says Conlon.
You can find the EPA registration number above the ingredients of any registered bottle. The EPA also provides a search engine on its site to help you select which repellent is right for your needs.
The EPA has approved repellents with the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535.
DEET is a popular choice, and Conlon recommends a 20 to 25 percent formulation. Picaridin, he says, is often used as a substitute for DEET since it’s almost as effective while also being odorless — unlike DEET, which has a distinct chemical smell. Oil of lemon eucalyptus may be a good option for individuals who want an alternative to synthetics, although Conlon notes that the oil is not as effective. (You’ll also smell like lemon eucalyptus, which works for some but not others.)
Whether you choose synthetic or natural, Conlon reiterates the importance of that EPA registration. “There’s lots of stuff out there that’s only marginally effective,” he says. “You want to make sure your repellent works.”
If you’re planning to wear sunscreen as well, the CDC recommends applying that first and then the repellent.
Non-spray options are also available. Clip-on products contain pesticides that kill bugs upon contact. Conlon notes that they’re effective but have a few drawbacks. “It basically creates a cloud of pesticide around you, which works well but will get blown away by a breeze.”
In addition to ensuring the repellent is registered, make sure you follow the directions carefully and take all necessary precautions. This is especially important when applying on children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that products containing DEET not be used on children younger than two months old, and products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children younger than three years old. The AAP also recommends washing treated skin with soap and water after returning indoors.
Wear proper clothing
“The best advice is to cover yourself,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association.
That means wearing long sleeves and pants when possible.
For those who need additional protection, manufacturers have developed clothing impregnated with the synthetic pesticide permethrin. Specially treated so it won’t be absorbed through skin, the clothing not only repels mosquitoes and ticks, but actually kills them instantly on contact.
Check your home
According to Henriksen, mosquitoes can breed in half an inch of water and can actually lay dormant for several years, so it’s important to eliminate any standing water sources in your yard.
“Empty your flower pots, switch out your bird bath water two to three times a week — even check things like your grill cover to be sure no water has collected in the indentations,” she explains.
She says that popular items like mosquito zappers and citronella candles can be effective in minimizing mosquito populations, but they won’t prevent them. Many areas provide aerial mosquito spraying; however, homes with problem areas should consider working with a professional to directly treat their yard for trouble spots — killing current populations and preventing their return.
While contracting a deadly virus from a mosquito bite isn’t likely for most Americans, being vigilant is still important. “A lot of people think it won’t happen to them, but there are a lot of dangerous diseases that can be transmitted,” Henriksen says. “It’s important to be protected.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services