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Mosquito Season: Tips & Repellants. What works, what doesn't?

It's that time of year now where health officials will be warning communities about the West Nile Virus. I remember writing a paper for my epidemiology class about West Nile when everyone in the media was talking about this new disease that had reached Canada.

Many years later, we are now seeing a more virulent strain of the virus migrating up north from the US. The warmer weather - due to global warming - has led the mosquitoes further north and scientists have discovered that warmer temperatures also causes the virus to replicate faster in mosquitoes, thus increasing the risks of transmission. In general, the virus usually peaks in the late summer months.

Symptoms of West Nile

In general, the young, elderly and immuno-compromised are at an increased risk of complications from this virus. Most people (~80%) won't get sick with West Nile even if bitten by a West Nile carrying mosquito. Those that do, most will experience milder symptoms such as a fever, ache or a bad headache - reminiscent of flu symptoms. A small percentage might experience neurological symptoms and should seek medical attention.

Prevention Tips

  • Avoid fragrances & smells like shampoos, perfumes, lotions.
  • The bigger you are, the more of a target you are - so cover up with long sleeves and pants. I know, very hard to do in the summer!
  • Bugs like dark solids compared to clothes with light colours, stripped or floral patterns.
  • The darker your hair, the more attractive you are to a mosquito, though I'm not suggesting you bleach your hair.
  • Heat & moisture (ie. sweat) attracts mosquitoes….so something like exercising outdoors makes you look tasty to a mosquito.
  • Going out after a meal also attracts mosquitoes because the digestion process increases heat in your body.
  • Avoid alcohol – when you sweat, it comes out of your pores & attracts the mosquitoes.
  • Mosquitoes are not the strongest flyers, so the breeze from an electric fan may also help prevent them from feasting on you & your guests.
  • There are more expensive mosquito zappers out on the market that emit a warm, moist carbon dioxide mist, which attracts mosquitoes. This mist mimics a human's breath.
  • Note: There are a number of bug zapping devices that claim to eradicate mosquitoes, but research has shown that mosquitoes make up a small percentage of the insects that are caught. As few as 3% of the insects caught are female mosquitoes - the ones that bite humans.

Repellants that work

  • DEET works best in all trials performed thus far. It lasts the longest compared to other products out on the market. A product with 20% DEET can ward off mosquitoes for almost four hours and a product with 6.65% DEET lasts for almost two hours.
  • When it comes to DEET, don't use a stronger product than you need. Don't apply it near your mouth, nose, eyes or on broken skin. And please wash the repellant off your skin once you come back indoors.

Natural Alternatives that also Work (but not as effectively as DEET)

  • Products with citronella will last upto 30 min. Depending on the product, it can offer protection for as little as 2 minutes. Health Canada recommends that you don't rub the stuff on your skin so spray on your clothing.
  • Products with 2% soybean oil will protect you for ~94 min
  • The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) states that the oil of lemon of eucalyptus (its chemical name is PMD, for para-menthane-3,8-diol) is quite effective, but it is not recommended for children under 3 years old. It may provide protection for up to 2 hrs.

Interesting Fact

Mid-cycle is a bad time of the month for women as you are tastier to the mosquitoes because of a surge in your hormones.

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