Plus, tips for eliminating mosquito habitats and how to care for itchy bites.
Most mosquito bites are nothing more than itchy. But some people are super sensitive or vulnerable to bites and they can experience significant symptoms such as welt-like hives or local swelling. The tiny insects can also spread potentially serious viruses, such as West Nile and Zika, which have been major health concerns in recent years. Likewise, although largely eradicated in the United States, mosquito-borne malaria could re-emerge if travelers contract the disease and mosquito populations are not kept in check.
Mosquitoes thrive in years with milder winters and hot, humid summers. As weather patterns trend upward globally, scientists predict mosquito populations may shift and expand to previously unfamiliar areas farther north of the equator. And because different breeds of mosquitoes bite in the day than at night, you may need to take precautions round the clock, depending what kinds of mosquitoes are common where you live.
Here’s everything you need to know about mosquitoes this summer to stay healthy and find relief:
Preventing Mosquito Bites
The first line of defense in preventing mosquito bites is covering up. Although mosquitoes are associated with warmer weather, they tend to hide when it’s too hot out. Like people, they prefer to be in cool shady spaces or outdoors at dusk, so if that’s where you’ll be, choose clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants.
To keep the bugs at bay, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends insect repellents with specific active ingredients, which may not be safe to use on babies younger than two months:
- Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is also included on that list, but should not be used on children under three years old.
For children too young for spray repellents, drape a mosquito net over their carrier or stroller. Mosquito nets are known to be an extremely effective method of prevention.
Eliminating Mosquitoes’ Habitat
Keep pests outside by shutting windows and doors tightly. Check that screens have no tears or gaps.
Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so look around for possible problem sources to discard or cover them as necessary. Even a container as small as an upturned bottle cap could be the culprit. Cover or repair leaky vents or plumbing pipes. Once per week, empty and scrub sources of standing water that remain open, such as birdbaths or wading pools. You can also look into using larvicides (a type of insecticide) that, if used properly, are not harmful to humans or organisms other than mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes are abundant in dark, humid places. Outdoors, look under patio furniture, inside garages, and other areas that provide cover, including ground vegetation. Indoors, check underneath sinks or inside closets. Such locations are also where pest control companies may provide targeted treatments. Before going that route, which can be costly and possibly have negative side effects on the natural environment, you can try nontoxic traps and modifications to see if they are effective. Dragonflies and certain kinds of fish, such as goldfish and the aptly named mosquitofish, are the most effective natural predators against mosquitoes. It may be worth researching how to best to integrate them into your outdoor space.
Caring for Mosquito Bites
If you know you tend to have a more intense reaction to mosquito bites, take an antihistamine before potential exposure. To help relieve itching, use hydrocortisone or other soothing topical ointments such as aloe vera.
Seek medical attention if you experience throat swelling, generalized hives, faintness or wheezing; or if the mosquito bites seem to be associated with fever, headache, body aches and signs of infection.
Lorinda Toledo is a writer based in Los Angeles.