Summertime at my house means spending long evening hours in the back yard gardening, dining, and just plain relaxing. Nothing can spoil the mood faster than a swarm of mosquitos following a good thunderstorm. I have a love-hate relationship with these little blood-suckers: they love me, and I hate them! Well, I have a few tips for you that will help you and your family reclaim your yard. Check out our blog post on Chiggers and Fleas for more information on these little pests!
It seems that mosquitos are especially attracted to infants and young children. It must be because they are so sweet and tasty! And little ones get huge whelps followed by scratching and sometimes minor skin infections. Although mosquitos do carry West Nile virus, most infections cause no symptoms whatsoever. Only 20% of infected persons get any symptoms at all, and less than 1% get the neuro-invasive type which sometimes leads to death. That means that 80% of the time West Nile virus infections go entirely unnoticed! Almost all deaths occur in the elderly. I do not want to minimize the tragic outcome for those families who lose a loved one to West Nile virus, but the news media reports would make you fear the disease more than is reasonable. Nonetheless, I still want to help you create a bite-free zone for your family to enjoy. Check out my blog post on West Nile Virus to learn more about the viral infection.
Eliminate Standing Water
There are two ways you can get mosquitoes to leave you alone. The first one is to make your yard a very unpleasant place for them to live. There are easy and safe ways to do so. Make sure there is no standing water anywhere in the yard. Inspect the yard after rainstorms to make sure there are no new pools of water in pots or other containers. If you have a birdbath, change the water frequently.
Spray the Yard every 6 – 8 Weeks
The second step you can take to chase away mosquitoes is to spray the furniture, house, shrubs, trees, etc. with a safe product that is inexpensive, easy to apply, and lasts for 6-8 weeks before needing reapplication. This is the same stuff that cities all over the United States use in fogging trucks on summer nights to control mosquitos.
For home use, it comes in the form of a “hose-end sprayer” that is readily available for about $9 to $12 at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, garden centers, and even Amazon.com. One bottle can usually provide two applications to the entire back yard. Any solution remaining in the plastic bottle after the first application can be stored for future use when needed.
Product application is fairly simple. A description of my personal protocol:
1) Wear jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt.
2) Apply the spray in the evening after the honeybees and dragonflies have gone to bed. Once the spray dries in an hour or two, these insects will be safe. Spray the part of the house that faces the back yard.
Pay special attention to the area immediately around the back door.
3) Spray under the eves of the roofline. Spray the brick, wood, or stucco siding of the house.
Get down on your knees and spray upward onto the underside of the leaves of backyard shrubs and trees. This is where mosquitos hang out and wait for you to show up so they can come out and suck your blood. Spray the underside of all outdoor tables, chairs, arbors, umbrellas, birdbaths, etc.
4) Avoid exposure to fish and cats because they will die. Cats die because they are missing an enzyme that protects humans, dogs, and other mammals. Fish absorb tons of the insect repellant through their gills and skin.
5) Go inside, remove your clothing, and take a shower.
6) Put some clothes back on and go outside in about an hour and enjoy a mosquito-free zone for 6-8 weeks. If you get a drenching downpour of rain, then repeat the process as soon as mosquitos reappear.
Apply Insect Repellent to Yourself and the Kids
The primary ingredient in most topical insect repellent is DEET. It is safe to use on infants as young as 2 months of age. Just be sure to wash it off after coming inside for the day. DEET is often sold and used in spray or lotion in concentrations up to 100%. Consumer Reports found a direct correlation between DEET concentration and hours of protection against insect bites. 100% DEET was found to offer up to 12 hours of protection while several lower concentration DEET formulations (20%-34%) offered 3–6 hours of protection. The Center for Disease Control recommends 30-50% DEET to prevent the spread of pathogens carried by insects.
There is another insect repellent ingredient, Picaridin (also called Icaridin), which has some very nice characteristics. I like it because it is almost odorless. Unlike DEET, Icaridin does not dissolve plastics. Consumer Reports tests in 2006 gave as result that a 7% solution of Icaridin offered little or no protection against Aedes mosquitos, but a protection time of about 2.5 hours against Culex (the type of mosquito that spreads West Nile virus), while a 15% solution was good for about one hour against Aedes mosquitos and 4.8 hours against Culex mosquitos.
So it is best to use 40-100% DEET every 6-12 hours, respectively or 7-15% Picaridin/Icaridin every 2.5-5 hours, respectively.
Spray the Stroller every 6 – 8 Weeks
Here is a great tip to prevent mosquito bites while taking your infant or child on walks in a stroller in the neighborhood or park. Spray the stroller with an “outdoor fogger” flying insect killer. Let it dry completely. Be sure to spray the underside of the stroller and the underside of the hood. This will provide 6-8 weeks of protection without harming your child. Be sure to reapply sooner if your stroller gets drenched in a downpour. You can do the same on infant carriers.
As previously mentioned, DEET and Picaridin/Icaridin are the active ingredients for insect repellents applied to the skin. All other insect repellents, sprayed onto inanimate surfaces, contain Permethrin or Pyrethroids. Permethrin is a common synthetic chemical, widely used as an insecticide (including Nix for head lice), acaricide (killing ticks and chiggers), and insect repellent. It belongs to the family of synthetic chemicals called pyrethroids and functions as a neurotoxin, affecting neuron membranes by prolonging sodium channel activation. It is not known to rapidly harm most mammals or birds, but is dangerously toxic to cats and fish. In general, it has a low mammalian toxicity and is poorly absorbed by skin.