Did you know mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal on the planet? Although the U.S. is generally safer than some other countries, when you’re in treatment, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Mosquitoes kill far more people than any other animal, including humans. Humans are responsible for around 475,000 deaths each year, but that pales in comparison to the near 1,000,000 people killed worldwide by mosquito-borne infections.
How can such a tiny insect do so much damage? Mosquitoes are pathogen vectors for many deadly diseases. That means mosquitoes can carry and transmit diseases to the humans they bite.
Vector-borne diseases carried by mosquitoes include:
- Zika Virus
- West Nile Virus (WNV)
- Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-ye)
- Dengue (pronounced deŋ-gē)
- Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)
- St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE)
- Yellow Fever
- Heartworm Disease (in pets)
Most of these diseases aren’t a huge threat in the U.S., but if your immune system is weakened, any one of them can cause serious problems.
Protect yourself this summer by taking a few extra safety measures before going outside.
Ways to Help Prevent Mosquito Bites
- Wear loose clothing that covers your skin whenever you go outdoors.
- Avoid outdoor activity at dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
- Use citronella candles and plants (e.g., basil, wild sage, thymus spp, lemon thyme, neem, eucalyptus, lemongrass, catnip, marigolds and citrosa) that repel mosquitoes around outdoor seating areas—and areas you are most often.
- Use fans in outdoor seating areas.
- Make sure all window and door screens are free of holes.
- Use mosquito netting around your bed if you sleep with open windows.
Lawn Care to Help Prevent Mosquitoes
Lawn maintenance has a significant impact on the presence of mosquitoes. The most important thing you can do to prevent mosquitoes from taking over your yard is to remove all standing water. Flowerpot dishes, bird feeders, low spots in the ground, broken gutters—any of these items can collect enough water for mosquitoes to lay eggs.
Don’t want to get rid of your birdbath or pond? Bacillus thuringensis, or Bt, is a larvicide that can be added to standing water. It will kill mosquito larvae without harming fish or birds.
Once you fix the standing water issues, turn your attention to the lawn. Grassy areas can be treated with a granular insecticide (e.g., Talstar). Regular lawn mowing and shrub trimming also reduces shady spots where mosquitoes like to hide during the day.
Insect Repellant Safety
There’s been a lot of debate about the safety of insect repellent. DEET (diethyltoluamide) is the primary ingredient used in most repellents. It’s used in various concentrations, which is part of the reason why there’s confusion over whether DEET products are safe to use.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes DEET is "not classifiable as a human carcinogen," which means studies haven’t concluded DEET exposure increases risk of cancer. In low concentrations, DEET has been shown to pose very little health risk in general. The risks of not using repellent are usually higher.
Over the decades, studies have shown DEET is the most effective mosquito repellent in use. It’s even recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Follow these best practices for insect repellent, and you should be fine:
- Use DEET products only as directed and as needed.
- Never use DEET in an open wound or on irritated skin.
- Wash between applications.
- Avoid repellents that contain sunscreen, as they need to be applied more frequently.
- Spray the repellent into your hand, and then pat it onto the face.
To prevent potential adverse effects, stick to low-concentration DEET repellent, which is as effective as higher concentrations but doesn’t last as long. Products containing just 4.75% DEET can provide protection for up to 88 minutes.
If you’re going through cancer treatment, your skin may be extra sensitive. You must be careful about what products are used on your skin. It’s always best to cover up with clothing as much as possible to minimize the need for repellent.
Clothing lines and accessories—like natural mosquito repellent bracelets (e.g. iWeller)—are now available and can be even safer than applying repellent directly to skin.
Insect Repellent Alternative
Several essential oils are a natural alternative to DEET repellents. However, most don’t work as well or for as long. So far, studies have determined soybean oil is the best natural mosquito repellent. It’s been shown to repel mosquitoes for up to 95 minutes.
Before using any type of oil on your skin, discuss it with your doctor. He or she can determine if it’s a safe alternative to a DEET-based repellent.
While the U.S. has its fair share of mosquito problems, other countries have it far worse. Some states also have a higher risk of mosquito infections than others.
Before planning a trip, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. They provide updated Travel Health Notices, which include a list of countries where travelers should practice enhanced precautions to prevent mosquito-borne diseases.