The mosquito season will shortly be upon us and many of us, in an effort to keep the pesky insects at a distance, will get out last year’s spray cans and bottles of DEET™ and OFF! or OFF! Backwoods (SC Johnson products.) We may get our sprayers ready and check the hardware stores that feature the latest backyard propane mosquito traps and clip-on repellents.
The danger to public health takes the form of two diseases transmitted to humans by the bite of the mosquito, West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. By the way, aerial sprays have been proven to be the least effective approach to mosquito control. Some studies cited in the publication Beyond Pesticides indicate that DEET rapidly loses its effect over time and that it takes only one generation of mosquitoes to become insensitive to the chemicals in DEET because the insects mutate so rapidly.
Studies also indicate that DEET, especially in higher percentages, can cause severe skin reactions and can interfere with the central nervous system enzyme identified as AChE. Read the precautionary statements on a bottle of OFF!Backwoods! to get an idea of the potential risks. Studies indicate that under certain conditions using DEET in combination with permethrin has resulted in motor defects and memory dysfunction in humans.
In general, spraying the skin with or inhaling spray from products employing permethrin, resmethrin (Scourge), malathion (Fifanon), sumithrin (Anvil), organophosphate or piperong butoxide (PBO) should be avoided. They can be highly toxic to certain humans, especially children and pregnant women.
So if I do decide to put my can of DEET aside and avoid products with the potentially harmful chemicals listed above, what can I do to avoid the risk of being bitten by a mosquito carrying a deadly virus?
First, make sure that you eliminate all stagnant water in your immediate area because mosquitoes lay their eggs in places like leaf-clogged gutters, discarded tires, bird baths, and rain barrels that are neither covered nor emptied every couple of days. After only four days, mosquito eggs in stagnant water can mature into adults looking for blood.
One of the products that you can safely use in pools of water goes by the name Bt (bacillus thuringiensis israelensis). Follow the directions on the product called Mosquito Dunks which may be effective for up to 30 days.
Second, prepare before going out in the evening when mosquitoes are most active. Cover exposed skin and apply repellents that do not include the chemicals listed above. Instead, use products with any of the following: oil of lemon eucalyptus or eucalyptus with aloe vera, garlic oil (doesn’t smell), cedar oil, pine oil, pepper extract (picaridin), herbal extracts, and citronella.
Also available is a nontoxic mosquito repellent patch that uses a vitamin (Thiamin B1) as its deterrent. It can be used on children as young as one year old and reputedly remains effective for 36 hours.
Third, light up the good old reliable citronella candles if you want to keep mosquitoes away from your late night dinner on the patio.
So, avoid the harmful chemicals and be ready for a busy summer, one that is free from the buzz and bite of those pesky and sometimes deadly mosquitoes!