I’m one of the fortunate. Mosquitoes aren’t particularly drawn to me, which makes things even worse for my husband who becomes host to both his personal swarm and my hungry cast offs. Years ago, no one thought much about mosquito bites. In fact, they were a rite of passage into summer. But in the days of West Nile Virus, Malaria, Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever, what was once an insignificant annoyance is now taken as seriously as a tick potentially carrying Lyme Disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, mosquitoes most frequently rear their stingers at dawn and dusk. And you may not feel swelling or itching for up to two days after a bite. Oral antihistamines, topical lotions (remember pink, runny, drippy calamine?) and alcohol-based solutions like After Bite can help reduce discomfort. A popular home remedy is a paste made with one teaspoon of water and one teaspoon of dry meat tenderizer.
Serious reactions are quite rare, but could include hives, wheezing and anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition, which causes swelling in the throat.
While it’s very uncommon, mosquitoes can transmit serious diseases such as West Nile Virus, Malaria , Yellow Fever, and Dengue Fever. Signs and symptoms of such an infection may include:
- Severe headache
- Neurological changes, such as one-sided muscle weakness
- Body aches
- Swollen glands
- Sensitivity to light
How It Happens
It’s always the woman, isn’t it? Mosquito bites occur when a female mosquito feeds off blood by piercing the skin. While dining on your blood the mosquito also deposits a type of saliva, which contains proteins that the body’s immune system reacts to.
According to the Mayo Clinic staff, mosquitoes select their victims by evaluating scent, exhaled carbon dioxide and the chemical make up of a person’s sweat. A few factors may put some (like my husband) at greater risk than others (like me), such as those with type O blood, men, and people who are overweight. Mosquitoes are also drawn to heat, so wearing dark colors – which absorb heat – may attract mosquitoes.
At First Sign of a Bite
If you know you’ve been bitten by a mosquito, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible. An ice pack may help reduce the swelling, and if the itching is a problem, an over-the-counter antihistamine may help such as Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, Claritin or Zyrtec. For stronger reactions, the Mayo Clinic suggests taking an antihistamine containing diphenhydramine, such as Tylenol Severe Allergy, Actifed, Claritin or Zyrtec. Keep in mind that if mosquito bites are scratched, and the skin is broken, a bacterial infection may occur.
There’s some evidence that taking 75 to 150 milligrams of vitamin B-1 (thiamin) daily during the summer may slightly change your scent and offer some protection from insect bites. However, this hasn’t been definitively proved.
To prevent mosquito bites, take steps to reduce the mosquito population around your home. Since mosquitoes need stagnant water to breed:
- Unclog roof gutters
- Empty children’s wading pools at least once a week
- Change water in birdbaths weekly (or purchase a water circulating device)
- Store unused flower pots upside down
Other methods of controlling mosquitoes that are popular (but their effectiveness is unproved) include:
- Electronic insect control systems, better known as bug zappers
- Citronella-scented candles
- Replacing outdoor lights with yellow bug lights
According to the Mayo Clinic, repellents are safe when used properly; they don’t kill mosquitoes but make it harder for them to find you. Common insect repellents include:
- DEET: Apply repellent with up to a 35 percent concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing. Choose the concentration based on the hours of protection you need – generally, the higher the concentration of DEET, the longer you are protected. A 10 percent concentration protects you for about two hours. Keep in mind that chemical repellents can be toxic, and use only the amount needed for the time you’ll be outdoors. Don’t use DEET on the hands of young children or on infants younger than age two months.
- Picaridin: Also called KBR 3023, offers protection that’s comparable to DEET at similar concentrations. Picaridin is nearly odorless, which may make it a good alternative if you’re sensitive to the smells of insect repellents.
- Oil of lemon Eucalyptus
- Citronella: available in oils, spray, candles, wipes
On the Defensive
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and hats, and search out holes in screens
- In addition to these steps, fix any holes you might have in your window or door screens.