The War on West Nile


There are few sounds as irritating as the unseen mosquito. That buzzing in your ear immediately puts you on high alert, bringing back the memory of bygone bites. As if the itch weren’t enough, now people in the lower 48 also need to worry about getting West Nile Virus from these pesky pests. Luckily, there are many different ways we can fight back against the bite.

What Is West Nile?

There have been outbreaks of West Nile Virus in the U.S. every summer since 1999. The majority of people who get West Nile (70-80 percent) never show any symptoms. About one in five may develop headache, fever, rash, joint pain, body aches, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. These symptoms are temporary and often go away on their own, but they can leave the sufferer fatigued for weeks or even months. In less than 1 percent of people with West Nile, the infection spreads to their brain. This can cause swelling of the brain (encephalitis) or inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord (meningitis). These neurologic illnesses can be life-threatening.

Mosquito Population Control

You can reduce the number of places mosquitos can breed by ridding your home of unnecessary standing water. Cleaning your gutters, emptying birdbaths and kiddie pools, and making sure there are no pools of water in unused flowerpots, tires, and other outdoor accoutrement can lessen your local mosquito population.

Avoiding Exposure

Sunrise, sunset, and early evening are peak mosquito times in summer, so consider heading indoors at those hours. If you know you’re going to be around mosquitos, you can sport anti-bite fashion by wearing long sleeves, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and socks — all in tightly woven materials. It’s also a good idea to tuck your socks into your pants (très chic, no?). Lastly, using yellow lights outdoors should attract fewer bugs than other lights.

The Most Successful Repellants

Products containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus will provide the highest level of protection from mosquitos. Considered by many to be the most effective repellant, DEET is recommended for everyone over the age of six months to use in concentrations up to 30 percent. Some organizations advise concentrations of 10 percent or less for children. Products containing picaridin — a popular odorless and non-greasy DEET alternative — and oil of lemon eucalyptus are not recommended for children under the age of three, and pure eucalyptus oil should not be applied to skin. IR3535 is a biopesticide with no reported ill effects. Permethrin is another common, effective repellant that’s applied to clothes, shoes, and camping gear. It is not meant to be applied directly to skin.

Alternative Repellants

Some people swear by other natural repellants such as soybean oil, lavender oil, oil of citronella, and garlic to ward off mosquitos. In studies, however, these alternatives have been drastically less effective than the standards. The same goes for abstaining from alcohol and increased vitamin B1 consumption.