Insects are never far from the Inner West Mums’ minds, it seems, and time and again our trusty local entomologist (insect scientist) Tanya Latty has answered group members’ cries of ‘what’s that spider/scary-looking bug? Should I be worried?’ (Cue the burn-down-the-house GIFs.)
This week, as the weather warms up and we move into mosquito season, Tanya provided some sound advice within the group on preventing mosquito bites. Since it’s been such a popular post, we have reproduced an edited version here, with her permission. Thanks, Tanya!
By Tanya Latty
As the weather warms up we will soon be entering peak mosquito season.
First, and most important, if you are travelling to an area that has mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue or malaria (e.g., Bali and Far North Queensland) then please do not take chances; it only takes a single bite from an infected mozzie to transmit these diseases. Products containing DEET (diethyltoluamide, sometimes written N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) or picaridin are the ONLY ones that will provide proven, long-lasting protection.
DEET in particular is the gold standard for both repellency and safety. It has been around for decades and is safe. For kids, pick a concentration around 10 per cent. The concentration doesn’t impact the strength of the repellent; it just affects how long the spray will last before you need to reapply it. (Ten per cent needs to be reapplied every 2 hours, compared to every 8 hours for ‘tropical strength’ preparations.)
Many people either don’t like the smell of DEET or prefer natural products, but be aware that some people can and do have reactions to natural repellents, and these are in no way safer than products containing DEET. While some ‘natural’ repellents do repel mozzies, they almost always evaporate within 20–30 minutes, so you need to reapply them frequently (every 20–30 mins) which is impractical for most uses. And few, if any, provide anywhere near the protection you would get from DEET or picaridin.
Make sure you apply repellents properly: to be effective, they need to form a continuous barrier, so don’t spray them on like a perfume. Apply them like you would apply sun cream.
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Using mosquito netting is another option, especially if you need to protect a sleeping area. You can usually buy mesh shirts and hats from outdoor shops. You won’t win any fashion awards, but they do work! If you’ll be in an area with malaria or dengue, you probably need to get nets that are coated with an insecticide – these offer the best protection.
Mozzies are poor flyers, so a strong fan can go a long way toward preventing bites.
Make sure you eliminate any sources of standing water around your house. Mozzie larvae can live happily in very little water – a bottle cap is enough. So have a careful look around and empty any standing water you can find (e.g., flower pots, bird baths, even bromeliads can hold enough water for mosquito larvae).
Mosquito coils and plug-in repellents usually contain a relatively non-toxic insecticide and are pretty good at keeping mozzies at bay. Never burn the coils inside as the smoke can be irritating on the lungs. Bear in mind that these products can kill other small insects (not just mozzies but also beneficial insects like bees). I personally don’t use them as we have a beloved native bee hive in our courtyard.
Lastly be aware that there are many, many shonky products out there that claim to be repellents. The following DO NOT WORK: wristbands and patches (these only protect the area immediately around the band/patch, i.e., 1–2 cm), acoustic/noise-making/ultrasonic devices (don’t work AT ALL). Don’t waste your money, and definitely avoid these products if there’s any risk of mozzie-borne diseases.
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