Mosquito bites are itchy, sometimes painful, but most of the time a little hydrocortisone cream or Benadryl will do the trick. Unfortunately our pesky summertime guests can carry and spread diseases, like West Nile Virus. The most effective way to avoid West Nile virus disease is to prevent mosquito bites. The dark green states in the map below have had cases of West Nile reported this year.
Most people (70-80%) who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. Less than 1% of people who are infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). The symptoms of neurologic illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis.
People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease are also at greater risk for serious illness. Recovery from severe disease may take several weeks or months. Some of the neurologic effects may be permanent. About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die. No vaccine or specific antiviral treatments for West Nile virus infection are available. In severe cases, patients often need to be hospitalized to receive supportive treatment, such as intravenous fluids, pain medication, and nursing care.
The answers to the following questions will help you decide how to best protect your family.
Which mosquito repellents work best?
The CDC recommends the use of products containing active ingredients which have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as repellents applied to skin and clothing.
Of the products registered with the EPA, those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.
EPA registration means that EPA does not expect the product to cause adverse effects to human health or the environment when used according to the label.
How often should repellent be reapplied?
Repellents containing a higher percentage of the active ingredient typically provide longer-lasting protection. Regardless of what product you use, if you start to get mosquito bites, reapply the repellent according to the label instructions.
What precautions should I follow when using repellents?
Always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label. EPA recommends the following when using insect repellents:
- Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label). Do not apply repellents under your clothing.
- Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
- Do not apply to eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. When using repellent sprays, do not spray directly on your face—spray on your hands first and then apply to your face.
- Do not allow children to handle or spray the product. When using on children, apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child. Avoid applying repellent to children’s hands because children frequently put their hands in their eyes and mouths.
- Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application does not give you better or longer lasting protection.
- After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days.
- If you (or your child) get a rash or other reaction from a repellent, stop using the repellent, wash the repellent off with mild soap and water, and call a local poison control center for further guidance. If you go to a doctor, it might be helpful to take the repellent with you.
Can insect repellents be used on children?
Yes. Most products can be used on children. Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not to be used on children under the age of three years. EPA does not recommend any additional precautions for using registered repellents on children other than those listed above.
Can insect repellents be used by pregnant or nursing women?
Yes. EPA does not recommend any additional precautions for repellent use by pregnant or nursing women.
Can I use an insect repellent and a product containing sunscreen at the same time?
Yes. People can, and should, use both a sunscreen and an insect repellent when they are outdoors. Follow the instructions on the package for proper application of each product. In general, the recommendation is to apply sunscreen first, followed by repellent.
Should I use combination sunscreen/insect repellent products?
It is not recommended to use a single product that combines insect repellent containing DEET and sunscreen. Repellent usually does not need to be reapplied as often as sunscreen. There are not specific recommendations for products that combine other active ingredients and sunscreen. Always follow the instructions on the label of whatever product you are using.
What is permethrin?
Permethrin is a repellent and insecticide. Certain products containing permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear. Permethrin-treated products repel and kill ticks, mosquitoes, and other arthropods. These products continue to repel and kill insects after several washings. Permethrin should be reapplied following the label instructions.