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Five ways to avoid scary mosquito bites

June 6, 2016


Mosquitoes have always been an annoying part of summer, but suddenly they seem to loom larger and buzz louder.

With the world facing its latest health threat from the mosquito-borne Zika virus, you might be tempted to cancel your summer trip to Mexico or points south, including Brazil ó even if you were lucky enough to snag tickets to the Summer Olympics.

Or, in the U.S., you might worry about getting bitten by a Culex mosquito. Thatís the species that carries the West Nile virus, which now is endemic in California. While the global village we live in means we can no longer wave off certain diseases as distant epidemics, health officials also say thereís no cause for panic.

Certainly, with the risks of Zika-related birth defects, pregnant women should carefully consider visiting countries dealing with outbreaks.

Still, the rest of us can reduce our risk by using simple precautions.

1 TRAVEL SAFELY

The CDC has issued travel warnings for about 50 countries regarding the Zika virus, including Mexico and in the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands. Specifics about advisories for each country are available at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information

If you travel to these countries, try to stay indoors behind screens, or closed doors or windows as much as possible, especially during the day when the mosquitoes are most active. At night, sleep under a mosquito net.

2 CHOOSE THE RIGHT CLOTHES

The right clothes can go a long way toward reducing bites.

It might seem counterintuitive to don long pants and sleeves in tropical climates, but try to cover as much skin as possible. Clothing with a close weave works best to prevent bites, but layered loose-weave clothing works almost as well, says Joe Conlon, medical entomologist and technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association.

And because bugs are attracted to dark colors, go for clothes in white, beige or light khaki colors, he says.

Conlon says you can also buy clothing treated with a repellent called permethrin, which is marketed under the name Insect Shield and can maintain its repellency through 70 washings. The Department of Defense developed this technology decades ago to protect troops in battle from insect-borne diseases.

With its Bugsaway line, outdoor clothing manufacturer ExOfficio sells Insect Shield menís and womenís shirts, pants, hoodies, hats and socks (www.exofficio.com

3 USE THE RIGHT BUG SPRAY

When it comes to sprays, not all brands are created equal. Consumer Reports found that the most effective repellents for warding off Aedes mosquitoes were Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, each of which contains a 20 percent concentration of the chemical picaridin. Another good one is Off! Deepwoods VIII, which contains 25 percent of the chemical DEET.

Not only did these products keep mosquitoes from biting for about eight hours, they are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, which means they are evaluated for safety and effectiveness.

Consumer Reports cautions against using many so-called "natural" repellents, using citronella, clove, lemongrass or rosemary oils. These products might smell nice, but they wonít keep mosquitoes away for long, and many arenít registered with the EPA.

An exception in the plant oil category is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, which contains 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus. This repellent warded off mosquitoes for seven hours.

The CDC says DEET products are safe for pregnant women to use, but parents should avoid using picaridin or lemon eucalyptus sprays on young children because they can cause a rash.

Consumer Reports also suggests that insect repellent wrist bands that have been marketed as being safer because you donít have to rub anything on your skin donít do much good. When testers stuck their arms into a cageful of mosquitoes, while wearing bands with citronella or geraniol oils, the bugs started biting immediately.

4 STOP MOSQUITOES AT HOME

To steer clear of the West Nile-carrying Culex mosquitoes, itís best to stay indoors at dawn and dusk when they are most active.

To eliminate mosquito breeding grounds from your yard, dump or drain water thatís been standing for several days in flower planters, pet dishes, birdbaths, neglected swimming pools and remove old tires, tin cans or buckets.

If you want to enjoy your patio or deck in the evening, Conlon suggests illuminating it with yellow "bug lights" instead of incandescent white lights. While the yellow lights donít necessarily repel mosquitoes, they donít attract them as the white lights do.

Creating a breeze with strategically placed floor fans can push weak-flying mosquitoes away and also dissipate the olfactory clues they use to locate prey, he says.

Citronella candles have a mild repellent effect but are no better protection than Tiki Torches or other candles that produce smoke.

5 SAFE SEX

Men can spread Zika to a female partner through sexual transmission, as has been demonstrated with 11 U.S. Zika cases. However, itís still uncertain if women can pass the virus onto male partners, or which modes of sexual transmission are most risky.

Until more is known, the World Health Organization says men and women returning from Zika-affected areas ó especially pregnant women and their partners ó should practice safe sex, including using condoms or abstaining from sex, for at least eight weeks.

This recommendation, doubling the abstinence period previously recommended, came recently after scientists found that the virus lingers longer than previously thought in the blood or other body fluids.

If the male partner has symptoms, a couple should practice safe sex or abstain from sex for six months.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier also said that couples in Zika-affected areas should consider delaying a pregnancy.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

THE LATEST ON ZIKA AND WEST NILE

How scary is Zika?: While Zika has spread through the Americas over the past few years, most people with Zika donít get sick. For the one in five who develop a fever, rash, joint pain and other symptoms, the symptoms are usually mild and last about a week. Still, Zika has been implicated in more than 4,000 cases of infants in Brazil born with microcephaly, an unusually small brain. Health officials also are investigating Zikaís possible role in Guillain-Barrť syndrome, a rare disease affecting the nervous system. The two species of Aedes mosquitoes that carry Zika are already in California, according to Vicki Kramer, chief of the vector board disease section at the California Department of Public Health. The bugs have been detected in 12 California counties, including in Alameda and San Mateo counties. But as of late May, there had been no documented cases of mosquito-bite transmissions in the United States, though that could change in the coming months. Of over 600 confirmed Zika infections in the continental United States, all involve people who had traveled to other countries.

Pregnant women most at risk: Health officials have confirmed that the virus, passed from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy, can cause birth defects. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women to avoid traveling to some 50 countries listed on their website.

West Nile Virus still here: "West Nile virus is here to stay," says Kramer of the state public health department. "People will become ill from this illness, and people will die from it. Itís happened every year since 2003." The Culex mosquito, like the Aedes, also likes hot weather. Itís active in Southern California and the Central Valley. The insects pick up West Nile from feeding on infected birds. Unlike Zika, the risk of mother-to-child West Nile transmission during pregnancy is extremely rare. But like Zika, few people who get West Nile virus will develop serious symptoms, and 80 percent wonít suffer any symptoms at all.

Watch out for the birds: Because birds carry West Nile, itís important to alert public health officials if you find a dead bird in your yard or neighborhood, particularly if itís a crow, jay, magpie, raven, sparrow, finch or raptor. You can file the report online at www.westnile.ca.gov

A MOSQUITO MAGNET?

Itís not your imagination, especially if youíre among the unlucky. About 20 percent of us are more prone to getting bit than others, according to Smithsonian.com. Here are three of the nine factors why:

Blood: People with Type O blood are bit nearly twice as often as those with Type A blood, with those with Type B blood somewhere in the middle.

Bacteria: Having certain kinds or amounts of bacteria on your skin will attract bites.

Beer: According to one study, drinking beer ó even just a bottle ó can make you more attractive to mosquitoes, though researchers still havenít figured out why.

For more details on these findings and six more factors that might make you tasty ó or not ó to mosquitoes, go to http://bit.ly/1WxuDfi

 

 


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