We’ve all had those itchy red welts that tell us one pesky mosquito—or even 10—got the better of us. Usually, we don’t worry too much about the little bumps that go away after a day or two. But mosquitoes can carry germs, like the West Nile virus, that may make us sick.
West Nile tends to be a yearly threat in the U.S., especially during the summer. Although most people infected with the virus have no symptoms or only relatively mild ones—such as fever, headache or nausea—some people become seriously ill or even die from the infection.
To help reduce your risk of West Nile and other mosquito-borne illnesses:
1. Use a repellent. Insect repellent is key for chasing away insects like mosquitoes. Look for an Environmental Protection Agency-registered repellent with one of these ingredients:
• Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023 and icaridin).
• Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD).
Just remember not to put insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old, and don’t apply repellent on any child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cuts or irritated skin.
2. Cover up. Long sleeves, long pants and socks not only protect you from getting too much sun, they have the added bonus of putting a layer between you and mosquitoes. However, since mosquitoes can still bite through thin fabric, spray repellent on clothing too.
3. Keep a tight seal on your home. Screens on doors and windows stop mosquitoes from coming inside.
4. Dump the breeding pool. Flowerpots. Buckets. Birdbaths. Pet water dishes. Anything with standing water is a perfect place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Water-covered eggs hatch and become adult mosquitoes in one week. So empty any standing water at least once a week.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health