Mosquitoes are one of North America’s most dangerous pests. Their bites not only drive us crazy with itchy bumps, but they are known to transmit many dangerous viruses and parasites. In the U.S., mosquitoes are known to transmit West Nile virus and other viruses that cause encephalitis, or swell-ing of the brain. In South and Central America, mosquitoes can spread den-gue fever, yellow fever, malaria, and Zika virus.
What can you do to prevent mosquito bites?
While at home, make sure that screens on windows and doors fit tightly and don’t have holes. Empty standing water from yard objects such as pots, buckets, small wading pools, and tires.
When outdoors, wear long sleeves and pants if possible. In addition, there are many insect repellents that can be applied directly to the skin and over clothing. The best products on the market contain one of the following repellents:
01. DEET has been around for over 50 years and is an effective repel-lent. It is the active ingredient in dozens of repellents such as Off, Cut-ter, and Repel. DEET comes in multiple concentrations depending on which brand you choose. In general, the higher the concentration, the longer the protection. Anything below 10% DEET will not last much longer than an hour, and should only be used if you plan on being out-doors briefly. 10% DEET products protect for a couple of hours while those in the 20-30% range will last up to 8 hours. Concentrations higher than 30% do not have any additional benefit, and there have been some safety concerns about DEET used in very high concentrations. There are some other downsides to DEET as well. It has a greasy feeling when applied to the skin, and also has an unpleasant odor. It can dis-solve plastic and synthetic materials, which is generally a bad thing for your sunglasses and certain types of clothing (eg, spandex and rayon).
02. Picardin is a newer repellent, but appears to be just as effective as DEET. Its benefits are that it is odorless, does not have the same greasy feeling as DEET, and does not dissolve plastic or synthetic materi-als. Many of the brands that contain DEET also offer an an option that uses Picardin. Off, Cutter, and Repel all offer picardin based products.
As with DEET, the higher the concentration, the longer the protection. A product with 20% Picardin will last up to 8 hours.
03. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil: Touted as a “plant-based” alternative to the man-ufactured chemical repellents, lemon eucalyptus oil has been shown in stud-ies to be quite effective at preventing mosquito bites. However, it is not a natural compound and is synthesized just like other chemicals. Also, euca-lyptus oil may not offer the same duration of protection (4-6 hours) as the higher concentration DEET and Picardin products (6-8 hours). It has also been known to cause some skin reactions.
04. Permethrin: This is an incredibly effective repellant for both mosquitoes and ticks. It can be applied to clothing, shoes/boots, and even camping gear, and remains effective for two to four weeks after the application, even after laundering clothes. However, Permethrin is not effective when applied to the skin, so another repellent should be used on exposed body parts.
Most other “natural” repellents (citronella, lavender, geranium) have not been shown to be as effective as the products listed above. They tend to lose efficacy in as little as 30 minutes and need to be reapplied frequently. DEET, picardin, and Eucalyptus are all safe to use for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
A few tips about applying mosquito repellents:
01. Apply on exposed skin or on top of clothing. Do not spray or apply under your clothes.
02. Apply just enough to cover your exposed areas. Lathering it on is not more effective.
03. Do not apply over any breaks in the skin (scrapes and cuts, or on recently shaved skin)
04. Do not spray directly in your face–spray your hands, then rub it onto your face taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth
05. An adult should apply repellents on children (avoid their little hands be-cause small children will invariably rub their eyes or put their hands in their mouths).
06. Don’t spray repellents around food or drink, and wash your hands before eating or drinking.
How can I treat my itchy mosquito bite?
01. Clean the area with soap and water, or with rubbing alcohol.
02. Cool compresses will help reduce swelling and itching.
03. If you have multiple bites, a cool to tepid shower will help.
04. For more severe itching you may try:
• Topical antihistamine cream (eg. Benadryl)
• Topical hydrocortisone cream (eg, Cortizone or Cortaid)
• Oral Benadryl or Claritin
05. If you develop a painful rash or a fever and headache, this may be sign of a more serious illness. See your doctor or visit Access Now Urgent Care.