While there are some things we’re itching for come summertime—longer nights and backyard parties—mosquito bites are definitely not on the list. And though nobody wants to spend all season scratching, bug bites are only one part of the problem.
“You have no idea what a mosquito could be carrying, from viruses to fevers,” Joseph Conlon, Technical Advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association, tells us. “Once you are bitten, a disease can potentially be transmitted, and we have no idea about a lot the potential, long-term effects viruses like Zika on humans. Since West Nile broke in the U.S. alone, there have been over 2000 fatalities.”
Conlon’s best advice for staying safe? “Prevent getting bitten in the first place by remembering the three D’s: drain, dress, and defend.” Here’s everything you need to know to help you steer clear of the blood-suckers.
DRAIN STAGNANT WATER
“Mosquitoes like to breed in standing water, and you’d be surprised at how little water they need,” says Conlon. A container as small as a bottle capful could attract the tiny flyers. If you’re planning to spend time on the patio, be sure that any buckets, empty planters, or nooks where water may have pooled are dry. (Don’t worry about swimming pools; the chlorine will keep them away!).
If you have bird baths, be sure to not only drain them often—Conlon recommends every five days at minimum—but also scrub down the sides with a sponge. “This will help get rid of any eggs that may be left behind.” As the eggs are very small and you’re unlikely to see them, scrub a few rounds along the rim for good measure. The same goes for any pet dishes of water that may be kept outside.
On the other hand, mosquitos are less likely to linger by flowing water. If you have a ditch nearby, ensure it is also clear of debris so water can flow through it smoothly.
DRESS TO DETER
If you can, try to wear light colored clothing, as mosquitos are often attracted to darker colors. Opt for longer sleeves and pants. “And avoid tight clothing, as they can still bite through these,” says Conlon.
DEFEND WITH THE RIGHT REPELLENT
When shopping for repellents, first look for options that have been EPA-registered. This means that the manufacturer has provided the EPA with the necessary information on how safe and effective the product is at repelling. You can find the registration number just above the ingredient list. “If there is no number, I wouldn’t use it,” says Conlon.
As for whether you should choose a DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide) spray or not, that’s a personal choice. While the synthetic ingredient has been proven to be most effective in many repellants, Conlon says there are still other effective alternatives if you are adverse to the idea of synthetics. If you are opting for DEET, he recommends choosing one with a 25-35% formulation which should provide you with 4-8 hours of protection.
“If you want a more natural repellent, look for ones with picaridin, which is a synthetic derivative of the pepper plant,” says Conlon. “This is just as good as DEET but has a more neutral scent if you’re sensitive.” For an effective picaridin repellent, chose one with at least 15%-20% formulation.
Want an all-natural solution? Try oil of lemon eucalyptus (not to be confused with the essential oils), which has been deemed just as effective as the two above by the EPA. For this, Conlon recommends looking for 40% formulation. Despite being a natural alternative, however, the CDC recommends you avoid using oil of lemon eucalyptus on children younger than three. And while most DEET and picaridin repellents are safe to use on infants over two months old, Conlon suggests keeping them indoors, if you can.
As for garlic as another natural repellent, Conlon says: “Though toxic to mosquitoes, eating or planting garlic will not really do anything to repel them.” (You're better off saving that for a barbecue marinade.)
HOW TO GET RID OF MOSQUITOS...
- If you're hosting a backyard party—Though not the strongest repellents, citronella candles or oiled tiki torches are always helpful to have around (and double as cute patio decor). Conlon also suggests putting out a few floor fans for extra deterrent. "Mosquitoes are actually weak flyers. If you have a strong enough breeze, they won't circulate as much. Plus, fans help circulate your odors [which can often attract mosquitoes]."
- If you're finding them inside your home—There’s no nightmare worse than hearing a mosquito buzz in your ear as you drift off to sleep. To prevent them from sneaking in, Conlon advises first double checking all screen doors and windows are currently installed without any gaps. Next, cover any vents with hardware cloth; look for #18-24 varities as these will have the best sized holes to prevent the bugs from flying through.
WHEN YOU SHOULD SEEK A PROFESSIONAL
If you find you are especially reacting to a bite (such as experiencing a lot of redness, rashes, headaches, or joint pains), seek medical attention and be sure to tell your physician about your exposure to mosquito bites. If you are finding that your entire family is getting too many bites, Conlon says you may want to consider contacting a pest control service. A professional can help by conducting a thorough inspection to identify the target sources and the kinds of mosquitos infesting the area, then deem the appropriate treatment methods.