Preventing mosquito and tick bites is not easy, but increased concerns about Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by the deer tick, and other serious diseases such as West Nile and Zika virus carried by mosquitoes have led to better preventive products. A vaccine against Lyme Disease is now available, but the fight against mosquitoes continues.
The most effective repellents contain a chemical named DEET. It wards off mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies (gnats, sand flies, deer flies, stable flies, black flies), harvest mites and fleas. As with any repellent, DEET must be used with care; however, adverse reactions are rare when the product is applied properly. Use products containing not more than 10 percent for children. Adults can choose formulations with a 10 to 30 percent concentration for normal backyard use, but concentrations of 40 to 50 percent may be required for longer periods of exposure in areas with a high density of mosquitoes. Use just enough repellent to lightly cover the area—do not saturate the skin. For heavier protection, apply DEET to the skin and spray another chemical called permethrin on your clothes.
To treat mosquito bites, wash them with mild soap and water. Try to avoid scratching the bite area, even though it itches. Typically, you do not need to seek medical attention unless you feel dizzy or nauseated, which may indicate a severe allergic reaction to the bite. Several products are available for itching that are merely rubbed on the skin. These preparations help if you’re out in the woods and need instant relief. Try to find a product without benzocaine (a topical anesthetic to which many people are sensitive); preparations containing menthol work well. Applying ice or ice water after a bite helps slow any toxins from entering the bloodstream and can ease the itching. In a pinch, even saliva will give relief from the itching. If the discomfort continues, you can use 1% hydrocortisone, a very effective non-prescription cream available for external use.
If other products aren’t controlling the itching, use diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an excellent antihistamine for acute allergic reactions. It is sold without a prescription and is available in different forms; even liquid for children. One drawback to this drug is, it causes sleepiness. This means some people cannot drive or perform dangerous tasks when using it; others find no problem. (In fact, most of the non-prescription sleeping aids contain this medication.) Have no alcoholic beverages for six to eight hours after taking diphenhydramine. If you are going out of town or into the woods, have a supply of it with you for emergencies, but be sure to keep it out of the reach of children. If you are using Benadryl orally, don’t use it on the skin (topically) in addition. As always, if you take any prescription medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist before using this or any other non-prescription drug. See a physician if the itching or rash is persistent—other measures can be instituted. Ask your doctor before using on infants. Apply the cream thinly, and not over a large area, to prevent absorption into the body, especially on children, I like to use zinc oxide cream, a safe, old-fashioned product for itching and drying up “zits.”
Some precautions if you should use chemicals on the skin: keep any repellent away from the eyes and eyelids. If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, see your health care provider before using DEET. Do not use on infants without checking with your health care provider. Don’t apply any repellent to children’s hands, as they tend to put their fingers in their mouths, and do not apply under occlusive clothing such as diapers. Store insect repellents out of reach of children because accidental ingestion can be fatal. If a suspected reaction occurs, wash treated skin and see a doctor, bringing the repellent with you.
To decrease mosquito populations:
• Empty any standing water in your yard.
• Empty and change the water in bird baths, fountains, wading pools, rain barrels, and potted plant trays at least once a week if not more often.
• Keep swimming pools treated and circulating and rain gutters unclogged.
Using light clothing can help—mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing. Keep children’s nails clipped, and dress in long sleeves and long pants. Taking 100 milligrams of Vitamin B-1 (Thiamine) daily may keep mosquitoes at bay.