It’s hard to enjoy the great outdoors when the notoriously irksome summer insect, the mosquito, will not leave you alone.
To prevent mosquito bites, Adelaide Hebert, MD, professor and director of pediatric dermatology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, suggests using an application that contains Picaridin, an insect repellent that has been available without prescription for a few years. Hebert says this key ingredient is effective with a "greater power to repel" pesky insects than repellents containing DEET, an ingredient used in pest control items for about 50 years.
Both the Picaridin and DEET-based repellents are available in a variety of applications, including pump sprays, lotions and towelettes that make regular applications to skin much easier, especially after water activities, rain or heavy perspiration.
Bite reactions, including itching, can also be relieved, Hebert says, with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications with hydrocortisone, or by using chilled moisturizers. Additionally, OTC antihistamines can be helpful in relieving painful skin irritations, she says.
Burning of candles containing citronella oil can help in providing a few feet of mosquito-free space outdoors, she says, but should not be used by people wearing loose, easily flammable clothing or around children.
Reduce your risk of West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus (WNV) is back in the news. Before this mosquito-borne disease potentially spreads, learn how to protect yourself and your family from WNV with tips and information from Richard Bradley, MD, director of the Division of Emergency and Disaster Medicine at UTHealth Medical School.
Bradley answers important questions about WNV:
Q: How do I know if I have the West Nile virus?
A: Most people who become infected with West Nile virus don’t have major symptoms, and may only have a temporary fever. About one person out of every 150 who are infected develops a severe disease called West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis. This is an inflammation of the brain or the covering of the brain. These symptoms include headache, high fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, convulsions and coma. The symptoms may last several weeks and nerve damage may be permanent.
Q: Who is at the greatest risk for getting West Nile virus?
A: Everyone can be at risk, but the greatest risk is in those who are over age 50, and particularly in those who have received a solid organ transplant, such as a kidney, lung or heart transplant.
Q: How is West Nile treated?
A: West Nile is a virus — there is no treatment. Doctors can treat the symptoms, but West Nile can’t be cured. So, the most important thing is to prevent infection.
How can I prevent West Nile virus?
- There is no vaccine, so the key is to prevent mosquito bites.
- Prevention includes mosquito control programs and personal protection measures to reduce the likelihood of being bitten by infected mosquitoes.
- Community spraying programs are also important. The chemicals used to do aerial spraying do not pose any threat to your health.
- When you are outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. Look for a repellent with at least 20 percent DEET. This should give you protection for at least five hours.
- DEET is safe for children 2 months of age and older. If you have to take children under 2 months of age outdoors, a light coating of baby oil on their exposed skin may be helpful.
- Mosquitoes can lay their eggs in very shallow standing water. To reduce the risk from diseases caused by mosquitoes, drain standing water and check around your home every week for water in buckets, cans, pool covers, stored tires and flower pots.
- Clean pet water bowls, bird baths and water fountains weekly.
- Make certain that your rain gutters aren’t clogged and make sure wells or stored water are covered.
- Mosquito control items that are designed to protect an area, such as sprays, candles or machines, should only be considered supplemental to products used on your skin.
Harris County (Texas) Public Health & Environmental Services also suggests the following tips to avoid mosquito bites and help protect you and your family from WNV:
- Wear long sleeve shirts, pants, socks and/or hats that are treated with repellent — especially during dawn and dusk hours when mosquito activity peaks.
- Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors with infants.
- Install or repair screens on windows and doors and repair any outdoor household leaks.
- Don’t feed the storm drains. Sweep up lawn clippings, leaves and tree limbs from sidewalks and driveways.
- When mosquitoes are noticed in your yard, spray with an outdoor mosquito spray. To control mosquitoes in your house, use a “flying insect spray”. Be sure to use any repellent according to directions on the label.