Looking back through history, mosquitoes were more than irritating backyard pests with itchy bites. Because these tiny insects carried diseases like malaria and yellow fever, they’ve shaped human history and even turned the tide of wars.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials say that of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes, only a small number are dangerous to humans. But as climate change brings these mosquitoes to new parts of the world, it feels like we all need to gear up to battle mosquitoes carrying diseases like Zika virus and chikungunya.
Whether you’re traveling to Brazil or the Caribbean, planning on spending time at the coast or just enjoying a sunset picnic at the park, here are the best ways to protect yourself and your home from mosquitoes.
1. Dump out any standing water near your home.
Mosquitos can breed in just 14 days in a minute amount of water in an old flower pot, a rain gutter or bird bath. If you do have a pond, add some mosquito-eating fish like guppies, minnows or mosquito fish, add a waterfall or fountain to keep the water moving or treat it with a natural bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis. The bacteria kills mosquito larvae, but is harmless to people, plants and pets.
2. Keep mosquitoes outside.
Use screens on the windows or air conditioning to keep mosquitos from slipping in a window. Or if you don’t have screens, consider getting a fine mosquito net to hang over your bed or crib. Some mosquito nets, like the Pramex brand, are treated with a time-release insecticide, making them ideal for a camping trip.
3. Use mosquito repellent.
The most effective chemical repellents contain DEET, picaridin, PMD, or IR3535 insecticide, which are all considered safe when used as directed, says Natasha Bhuyan, an MD in Phoenix. The CDC says they’re safe for pregnant and nursing women, as well as babies over 2 months, though you want lower concentrations of DEET for children. The Environmental Working Group lists picaridin and IR3535 as its top choices for repelling mosquitoes. Just watch out for skin irritation and avoid spraying chemicals around the eyes or mouth. Jonathan Day, a mosquito researcher at the University of Florida, says to concentrate the repellant on your ankles, feet, lower legs and wrists — thin-skinned spots mosquitoes love to bite.
4. Wear light-colored clothing, especially outdoors.
Apparently, deep colors — like black, deep blue and red — stand out so they attract bugs. Thicker fabrics and looser fits offer more protection that thin clothing that fits tightly.
5. Stay indoors during dusk and dawn.
While mosquitoes can bite at any time of day, it’s wise to limit your exposure during their prime feeding times. If you can’t avoid being outdoors at these times of day, be sure to take some other precautions.
6. Make yourself less appealing.
Scientists are still studying why some people get more mosquito bites than others. Drinking a 12-ounce beer makes some people more appealing, so does emitting more C02 or having more bacteria on your skin — which leads to more body odor. While people with type O blood — a mosquito favorite in one study — can’t change it, they can try wearing a scent that mosquitoes dislike. While DEET was most effective, researchers at New Mexico State University found Victoria’s Secret Bombshell perfume effectively reduced mosquito bites for two hours — even more so than some mosquito repellents and Avon’s Skin So Soft Bath Oil — a popular mom’s remedy.
7. Try a natural repellent.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus comes from a particular eucalyptus tree (corymbia citriodora or eucalyptus citriodora) from Australia. The synthetic version, which is endorsed by the CDC as a repellent, is available under brand names including Repel, Bug Shield and Cutter. Studies show it offers similar protection to products containing low concentrations of DEET, says Siri Chand Khalsa, an MD in Phoenix, though it’s not approved for use in children under 3.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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