If you’ve traveled the world, you may have encountered some bizarre and dangerous bugs.
For example, the Wandering Spider of Brazil. It’s large and hairy. It’s ranked as the world’s most venomous spider by the Guinness Book of World Records. They don’t bother weaving traps. They just attack anything they can poison and eat.
And then there’s the Tsetse Fly in Tanzania. Like mosquitos, they suck out their victim’s blood. At the same time, they transmit sleeping sickness. To humans, domestic animals and wild game.
Here in America, we don’t have to worry about the Wandering Spider or the Tsetse Fly. But we do have plenty of annoying, menacing and sometimes paralyzing bugs. Some of them can land you in a hospital. Or maybe even a morgue.
170 mosquito species
Those bugs include certain spiders and ants. Plus bees, wasps and hornets. As well as scorpions, caterpillars, ticks and beetles.
But today I want to focus on mosquitos. If you’re not seeing them in your yard or a wooded area yet, you will soon.
There are approximately 170 different species of mosquitos in North America. The most dangerous are the Culez mosquito, the Asian Tiger mosquito and the Yellow Fever mosquito.
In some ways, mosquitos are more of a nuisance than a danger. That buzzing in our ears is enough to drive us crazy. The bite usually doesn’t hurt much, but the resulting itching is exasperating. And it often goes on for days.
Mosquitoes transmit diseases
But the real dangers with mosquitos are the diseases they sometimes carry. In the U.S., we’re mostly concerned about West Nile virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s “the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States.”
Not everyone infected with West Nile virus gets sick. About one in five will develop a fever and possibly other symptoms. A small percentage of people will develop a more serious and sometimes fatal illness.
There are no medications or vaccines to treat people with West Nile virus. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Worldwide, more than 1 million people die from a mosquito-transmitted illness annually. That’s according to the American Mosquito Control Association. So, knowing how to avoid getting bitten is very important.
Defend yourself with a repellent
Mosquitos breed in still, standing water. That’s the last thing you want near your home. This can be challenging if there’s been a lot of rain lately and you have a low-lying area in your lawn. Roof gutters and kids’ pools are other breeding grounds.
Use mosquito repellent when you go out. Your choices are over-the-counter sprays and rub-on’s containing DEET, or your own concoction. More on the latter in a moment.
Among the brand names are Repel, Bug Shield and Cutter. You’ll get some chemicals with most OTC brands, but at least those three contain a synthetic version of oil of eucalyptus. They’re endorsed by the CDC.
Whatever you use, apply it to any exposed area of skin. Especially feet, ankles, lower legs and wrists. Mosquitos like those thin-skinned areas because they can get to your blood easier.
The dreaded dusk and dawn
Wear light-colored clothing. Dark colors attract bugs. Choose thicker fabrics with a looser fit rather than thin fabrics that fit tightly.
Another way to limit your exposure to mosquitos is to time your outdoor excursions. Mosquitos do not like the heat of the sun. They much prefer the shadier hours around dusk and dawn.
And don’t forget about your dogs and cats. They can get heartworm from mosquito bites.
Don’t let them stay outside too long around dawn or dusk when mosquitos can prey on them. And provide them with flea and tick prevention treatments as well.
Two substances you can wear on your skin that have been shown to repel bugs are Avon’s Skin So Soft Bath Oil and Victoria’s Secret Bombshell perfume.
If you want to go 100 percent natural with your mosquito repellent, here are a few DIY options for you.
- Mix two parts water and one part lemon eucalyptus oil. One study showed 95 percent protection against mosquitos for three hours with this mixture.
- Crush lavender flowers and apply the resulting oil to bite-sensitive areas of your skin. Or just apply lavender oil to a clean cloth and rub it on your skin.
- Mix 1/4 teaspoon (24 drops) of cinnamon oil with four ounces of water and spray it on your skin.
- Mix five drops of thyme oil with two ounces of water and spray it on your skin.
- Other diluted oils that have proven effective in preventing mosquito bites include peppermint oil, soybean oil, lemongrass oil, Greek catnip oil, citronella oil and tea tree oil.
Tell mosquitos ‘no vacancy’
When we think about avoiding mosquitos, we usually concentrate on the outside. After all, that’s where they generally live.
But all of us have been bitten by mosquitos inside our homes. It’s especially aggravating when it happens as we’re sleeping because we can’t defend ourselves.
The key is to keep them outside. The best way to do that is to have good window screens with no holes. And to limit the time our doors are opened to let pets in and out.
And if you ever have to sleep outside, make sure you have reliable mosquito netting surrounding you.
Equip your yard
Speaking of outside, there are some things you can do in your yard to help convince mosquitos to set up camp elsewhere.
One of them is a bug zapper. Most use fluorescent light bulbs that emit ultraviolet light to attract insects into a high voltage electrical wire mesh, where they are electrocuted. The downside is that some harmless bugs will die as well.
Another option is the citronella candle. It masks scents that are attractive to mosquitos. Because the oil evaporates quickly, these candles are usually only effective for a couple hours.
They may not have a lot of range (six to seven feet), but tiki torches also contain citronella oil that can confuse mosquitoes. It’s a popular party decoration that can create a tropical island aesthetic.
Limiting the damage
OK, those are some ways to avoid mosquito bites. But what should you do if you’ve already been bitten?
If you believe you’ve been bitten by a dangerous bug, seek medical help immediately. Especially if you have allergies to certain bug bites.
Otherwise, there are some things you can do after being bitten by bugs such as mosquitos to reduce pain and swelling.
First, clean the area with mild soap and water to remove contaminated particles. Next, apply an ice pack to the area to reduce swelling. Then try rubbing apple cider vinegar at the site of the bite. Some people use a slice of raw onion or freshly cut garlic on the bite.
Don’t scratch that itch
The most common side effect of a bug bite is itching. Acquire an over-the-counter product BEFORE you spend time outdoors that will help with this.
Such as hydrocortisone creams including Cortaid and Cortizone. Or topical and oral antihistamines such as Benadryl. And calamine/zinc oxide such as Calamine lotion.
Another way to make a bite more tolerable and speed up the healing process is not scratching the itch. This is easier said than done.
You might be disciplined enough to avoid scratching an itch from a bite all day. But some bites itch so much that we scratch them in our sleep.
Scratching will irritate the area at best and break the skin at worst. Which increases the chances of an added infection. If your condition has not improved after several days, you may want to consult a physician.
Do you have any home remedies that have worked for you to either prevent mosquito bites or reduce their itching? Feel free to mention them in the comments section below.