Blame global warming and world travel for the hullabaloo about protecting your family from biting mosquitoes.
1. Mosquitoes love global warming. Higher temperatures allow them to multiply more rapidly and expand their habitat. It may also make them more robust and, in temperate climates, lengthen their breeding seasons – and their biting seasons.
2. Travel brings new diseases from the tropics to your ever warmer, more mosquito-friendly backyard. Mosquitoes thrive in the tropics. So do viruses (and other disease-causing organisms). Mosquitoes spread their viruses only locally. Until recently, many mosquitoes and viruses were mostly confined to remote, rarely visited areas in the tropics. Now mosquitoes, some carrying viruses, hitch rides on airplanes and, within days, establish a beachhead in your backyard. The viruses can also reach your neighborhood via already infected returning travelers. Local mosquitoes can do the rest.
3. Ridding your neighborhood of mosquitoes, not repellants, should be your first line of defense. While repellents are important, applying them correctly and safely, especially on infants, is time consuming, expensive, messy, not foolproof and raises some health issues. (Repellents for infants and children will be the subject of our next posting.)
4. Know your local mosquitoes’ biting patterns and the diseases they may carry. Seasonally, biting begins soon after trees commence blooming and ends with the first frost. Mosquitoes breed in standing water and rarely fly far from their breeding grounds. Each species has a different time of day for peak biting activity, but generally the peak is around sunrise and sunset. Check with your department of health. Stay indoors at such times when mosquito-borne disease alerts are in effect.
5. Eliminate standing water in your neighborhood. Check that authorities apply chemicals to kill larvae in ponds, reflecting pools and other bodies of still water. Sometimes fish are placed in water to eat larvae. Keep family members with serious respiratory issues indoors during aerial sprayings. Health departments will supply dates and times. Report standing water in empty lots and uninhabited houses.
6. Eliminate standing water in your immediate surroundings. Mosquitoes breed in poorly maintained swimming pools and in standing water on tarpaulins covering pools. Empty children’s wading pools and birdbaths at least once a week. Check backyard toys, abandoned tires, flowerpots, and even bottle caps for standing water.
7. Dress children in appropriate clothing so you need to apply less insect repellent. Repellents need not be applied under clothing. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks. Have children wear closed shoes. Use head nets if you venture into areas such as salt marshes with high mosquito populations.
8. “Bug proof” your house/apartment. Cover gaps in walls. Use weather stripping under doors. Check bathroom exhausts. Make sure windows and chimneys are properly screened. Remove piles of wet leaves from yards and roof eaves. Air conditioning and fans are effective deterrents; mosquitoes prefer warmth and dislike turbulent air. Fans are effective on porches and terraces.
9. Be leery of devices that claim to repel mosquitoes. Sound and light devices attract mosquitoes to the device, but then attack people near the device, possibly increasing the risk of being bitten. Products that emit vapors may be harmful if inhaled indoors over prolonged periods of time, especially by children. Outdoors, vapor effectiveness varies depending on wind direction and other factors. Ultrasonic gadgets include products that are designed to be worn around the neck or wrist, or attached to a belt, to repel mosquitoes. The devices create sounds that mimic male mosquitoes or dragonflies but do not seem to frighten most mosquitoes.
10. Miscellaneous.“Bug lights” are not repellents but do not attract mosquitoes as many other types of lights do. Taking vitamin B or antihistamines may reduce itching from bites, making people think they are being bitten less. Avoid scented soaps, perfumes, and hair spray; these may attract biting insects. A popular belief is that mosquitoes prefer infants. (Maybe they taste sweeter?) In fact, no one knows if infants are bitten more often. If so, it may be because infants are unable to swat them away. Place nets over strollers and playpens outdoors.