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The buzz about mosquitoes

Finally, summer is well underway! Unfortunately, that means that the buzz of pesky mosquitoes isn't far behind. What can you do to keep them away?

Finally, summer is well underway! Unfortunately, that means that the buzz of pesky mosquitoes isn’t far behind. What can you do to keep them away?

First of all, if possible, stay indoors at dusk, dawn and after a rain because they’re peak times for mosquito activity. Then, make yourself mosquito-unfriendly. Have you ever been sitting outside by a bonfire with a group of people and found that a few people were getting eaten alive, while others weren’t bothered by mosquitoes at all? That’s because mosquitoes are selective on who they’ll bite. You can make yourself less appealing to them.

Because they search for victims by smell (carbon dioxide and sweat), control your own. The aftershave, perfume or scented deodorant that makes you smell good to your mates may also make you smell good to a mosquito. Trade that perfumed scent for a bug repellent.

The next three factors may be more challenging to adjust. Mosquitoes are very attracted to overweight people, men and those with Type O blood.

Even so, following these clothing suggestions should still protect you. Wear light colours, since mosquitoes prefer hot bodies (dark clothing attracts heat). Keep mosquitoes off your skin by wearing socks, long pants (you may want to even tuck them into your socks), and long-sleeved shirts made of tightly-woven materials. Wear a full-brimmed hat to protect your head and neck or a baseball cap with a fold-out flap to protect the back of your neck.

At home, take charge of the environment and cut down the mosquito population. Don’t let warm water sit around because that’s where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Frequently change the water in your bird bath. Use an electronic insect zapper. Burn citronellascented candles. Replace regular outdoor lights with yellow bug lights. Put up houses that attract birds and mammals that eat mosquitoes, like purple martins and bats. Make sure all your windows and doors have effective screens. Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed.

On the road, even though you have less control of your environment, you can still protect yourself. Avoid long grass and wooded areas. When necessary, use insect repellents, remembering that they just keep the bugs away; they don’t kill them. For safety, always read the label to see what chemicals and other ingredients they contain. Follow the application guidelines and keep the repellants out of your eyes and nose.

Some common bug repellents contain DEET. DEET has been the most popular choice in the US for a long time. If you apply a 10% concentration to your skin and clothing, you’ll be protected for about two hours. Up to a 30% concentration is acceptable, but keep in mind that DEET can be toxic. If you get it on your hands, don’t eat or put your hands in your mouth. DEET should not be used on young children.

Another common repellant is Picaridin. It works like DEET, but is odourless, so it’s a good choice for people who are bothered by smells.

A plant-based chemical, oil of lemon eucalyptus, offers a protection similar to low concentrations of DEET, but is not recommended for children under three. Oil of geranium, cedar, lemon grass, soy, or citronella also works fairly well, but only for a short period of time.

Even after taking these precautions, you may end up with a few bites. A typical mosquito bite usually starts out as soft, pale bump that turns red over time.

The itchy spot can take up to two days to show up and may last up to 10 days. How should you take care of it?

First of all, don’t scratch. You may develop an infection or impetigo. Although this is easier said than done, instead, rub on hydrocortisone cream (0.5% or 1%), calamine lotion or a baking soda paste until the itch goes away. Make the baking soda paste by mixing three teaspoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of water. Toothpaste or emu oil can also reduce the itch and swelling. Or, use a cold pack.

For really bad bites, consider oral antihistamines, or an antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Tylenol Severe Allergy), chlorpheniramine maleate (Chlor-Trimeton, Actifed) or loratadine (Claritin).

If you get hives, wheezing, or swelling in the throat, you should get medical help immediately.

Although it’s fairly rare, mosquitoes may occasionally carry serious diseases, like West Nile fever, yellow fever, malaria, dengue or encephalitis. They have these symptoms: fever, severe headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands, jaundice, a rash, lethargy, confusion or sensitivity to light. If you get any of them after being bitten by a mosquito, see a doctor immediately. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are important.

This summer, make mosquitoes buzz off! Don’t let them take a bite out of your summer fun.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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