How to prevent mosquito bites, according to experts

If you sat outside on a summer night in Philly, chances are you came home with a few mosquito bites.

Those pesky bugs aren’t just annoying; they also transmit diseases such as West Nile virus. This year, a large number of mosquitoes in Philadelphia have tested positive for the virus, though so far, only one person has contracted the disease. Even as summer draws to a close, mosquitoes don’t disappear overnight. West Nile virus season runs through October.

The Inquirer asked a pest control professional, a biologist, and a pediatrician for his advice on preventing and treating mosquito bites.

“Mosquitoes thrive in areas where there is standing water,” said E. Qadir Martin, director of operations for Philadelphia-based Alpha to Omega Termite & Pest Control.

Get rid of anything that can hold water, from soda bottle caps to discarded tires. Routinely empty flower pots, pet water dishes, pool covers and cans. Empty kiddie pools and store them on their sides. Be sure to clean clogged rain gutters.

Martin recommends keeping grass less than three inches. Taller grass is an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes, he said.

Once you eliminate sources of standing water and keep mowed grass to about three inches, most of the battle is won. “That’s the essence of it, no matter how complicated someone wants to make it,” he said.

» READ MORE: West Nile Virus found in Philadelphia mosquitoes for the first time this summer

“Mosquitoes are really weak fliers,” said Matt Helwig, West Nile virus program specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

That means a fan can go a long way toward preventing mosquito bites when you’re spending time on a porch, lawn, or backyard. They will not be able to fly through the fan wind to reach you..

“When I’m sitting outside, I only have one fan available and I don’t get bitten by mosquitoes,” Helwig said.

Don’t miss out on a beautiful summer day just because you couldn’t completely eliminate mosquitoes from your yard.

A long-sleeved shirt and pants are good protection against bug bites, especially during times of day when mosquitoes are most active, Helwig said.

“The mosquitoes that are involved in West Nile virus transmission are most active in the evening for about two hours,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using a repellent with one of these active ingredients:

  • Lemon Eucalyptus Oil (OLE)

Children younger than 3 years old should not use products that include oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD), according to the CDC.

Some parents are concerned about applying a chemical to their child, but DEET has been rigorously studied in children, said Jonathan Miller, a pediatrician and chief of primary care at Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware.

“What’s great about this is not only that it’s safe, but it really works to keep bugs away,” he said, noting that the substance also repels ticks that carry Lyme disease.

» READ MORE: Backyard mosquito spraying is on the rise, but it may be too deadly

DEET products are safe for children who are at least 2 months old, Miller said. Recommend products with 10% to 30% DEET. If the repellant comes in a spray form, she says, avoid spraying it on children’s hands, as they could get it in their eyes or mouths.

Parents don’t need to worry about hiring a professional to treat their garden or lawn with natural or chemical substances to prevent mosquitoes, Miller said. There is a post-treatment period when children and pets should be kept away, and she recommends asking professionals how long.

“The benefit of preventing tick and mosquito bites for your family outweighs any kind of minimal risk that those things might carry,” he said.

Despite your best efforts, it will likely bite you eventually. Treat those inevitable mosquito bites instead of scratching, which can lead to infections.

Try applying a cold compress right after the bite to reduce swelling. Calamine lotion, baking soda paste, or 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream can help relieve discomfort. An antihistamine, such as cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine, may also help.

Allergic reactions from mosquito or insect bites are rare, but watch for hives, swelling, or any difficulty breathing, especially in children. These are signals to call 911 or go to the doctor. If a bite does not improve, new redness develops, or the area appears infected, contact your primary care physician.

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