Preventing bug bites is about far more than avoiding irritating or painful bites. As we all know by now, bugs such as mosquitoes, ticks and some flies can spread serious diseases. Many of those diseases, including Zika, West Nile Virus and Lyme, are not preventable by vaccine or even easily treated with medication.
Out best defense against these diseases, therefore, is to prevent the bites in the first place. There are a few common sense steps we can take to keep the insects away, as well as some special considerations when it comes to children and pregnant women.
Use Bug Spray
This one should come as no surprise, but there are a lot of different types of insect repellents available that are not demonstrated to be effective. For proven protections from mosquitoes, ticks and other insects, you should choose repellents that are registered with the EPA and that contain at least 20% DEET. A higher concentration of the active ingredient normally lasts longer, more than 50% DEET will not provide any additional protection.
There are other common repellent ingredients that provide protection against mosquitoes but may not prevent bites from other bugs. These other ingredients include picaridin, lemon eucalyptus oil, citronella oil, IR 3535 and 2-undecanone.
The EPA has a helpful section on their website to help you search through registered repellents to find the ones right for you. You can use their search tool and find more information here.
Of course, when using bug spray, always follow the instructions as written. In addition, do not apply repellent under clothing, and if using sunscreen, apply and allow it to dry completely first.
Cover as Much Skin as Possible
While it can uncomfortable in warmer weather, if you’re serious about preventing bug bites, it’s in your best interest to cover up completely. The physical barriers of long sleeves, pants and socks are your best protection, especially when your shirt is tucked into your pants and your pant legs are tucked into your socks. Ticks can easily climb up inside a loose pant leg and some bugs can even bite through fabric if it’s thin enough.
It’s also possible combine these first two steps and buy or treat clothing with the insecticide permethrin. Permethrin should not be used directly on your skin, but the U.S. Military has been using it to treat uniforms for 20 years. You can find footwear, clothing and camping gear already treated or you can apply the permethrin yourself. If you choose the latter, follow the instructions exactly.
You can find more information on permethrin treatment at the National Pesticide Information center website here.
Choose Accommodations Carefully
When planning travel, especially to woodsy or more tropical regions, look for hotels and other accommodations that include air conditioning or screens on the windows and doors. If the websites don’t specify, check travel review sites or contact the hotel and ask. Bugs that can’t get inside can’t get to you while you’re sleeping.
If you’re outdoors or have chosen someplace where the bugs can get in, buy permethrin-treated bed nets to sleep under and use citronella candles, mosquito coils or other area repellents while outside.
Specific Instructions for Children
When protecting children from bugs, there are a number of specific considerations to take into account.
For babies under 2 months old, never use insect repellents. Keep them in their carrier or car seat covered with mosquito netting with an elastic edge. For children younger than 3, you should avoid repellents that contain lemon eucalyptus oil (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD).
For all children older than 2 months, have an adult apply bug spray directly to their hands and then spread it over the child’s skin (like sunscreen). Do not let children handle insect repellent and avoid putting it on their hands to keep it out of their mouths and eyes.
Special Considerations for Pregnant Women
We’ve become all too familiar with the terrible consequences of diseases like Zika. The Zika virus has the ability to spread to the fetus and cause serious birth defects or miscarriage, so we join with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in recommending that pregnant women do not travel to areas with Zika outbreaks. In general, if you’re pregnant, please take extra special care to prevent mosquito bites at home and when traveling. Insect repellents that are registered with the EPA are both safe and effective when used as directed for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding.