Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

MosquitoThe Environmental Defenders of McHenry County has a long history of working with municipalities to prevent the spraying of chemicals in an attempt to control insects. Adulticiding for mosquito control should be used only as a last resort when a disease potential is present and determined to be a severe health hazard by the McHenry County Department of Health. For thirty years, the Defenders has had a pretty good track record of working with municipalities on this issue. With the onslaught of West Nile Virus, however, a lot of our past successes are being reversed. There are communities that had held off on spraying for the last 20-30 years that are now spraying, all due to the threat of the West Nile Virus and the lack of public education.

Municipalities spray for mosquitoes in response to public outcry. Therefore, public education must be a primary focus for the Defenders. If you are interested in becoming involved with these projects, please contact the office. We are looking for active volunteers that will help spread the word in their community or work with specific municipalities to encourage their adoption of a model mosquito abatement program.

What You Can Do at Home

The best defense against mosquitoes around the house is to eliminate their breeding sites. Any water standing for 5 to 7 days is a potential mosquito nursery. Follow these tips from the county health department:

  • Turn over children’s wading pools and toys when not in use.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling and trash containers that are left outdoors.
  • Properly discard of old tires and other items that could collect water.
  • Change water in bird baths twice a week.
  • Empty water from flower pots, pet food and water dishes, buckets, barrels and cans.
  • Fix leaky faucets – they provide water where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Window boxes and flower planters should have drainage holes to prevent water from pooling.
  • Do not rake leaves and other yard debris into storm drains or gutters.
  • Cover window wells and keep them free of debris.
  • Keep roof gutters free of leaves and debris.
  • Aerate ornamental ponds or stock with mosquito eating fish.
  • Keep pools clean and chlorinated. Empty any collected water from pool covers.
  • Eliminate any other standing water on your property. Be sure to check for containers or trash in places that may be hard to see, such as under bushes or under your home.

Natural Repellants

From EarthEasy.com, which has loads of great information:

Mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and early evening. They seek areas of still air because breezes hamper them.

  • A 30% concentration of oil of eucalyptus prevented mosquito bites for 120 minutes, while Bite Blocker with 2% soybean oil kept bites away for 96 minutes. Citronella, a common alternative to DEET, performed poorly, warding off bugs for only 20 minutes.
  • If you’re using the barbeque, throw a bit of sage or rosemary on the coals to repel mosquitoes.
  • For an effective natural bug repellent, mix one part garlic juice with 5 parts water in a small spray bottle. Shake well before using. Spray lightly on exposed body parts for an effective repellent lasting up to 5 – 6 hours. Strips of cotton cloth can also be dipped in this mixture and hung in areas, such as patios, as a localized deterrent.
  • Planting marigolds around your yard works as a natural bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance bugs and flying insects do not like.
  • Campers often report that the very best mosquito repellent is Avon Skin-So-Soft® bath oil mixed half and half with rubbing alcohol.
  • Thai lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a natural and effective mosquito repellent. It contains the natural oil, citronella, which is safe and effective; in fact, lemon grass citronella is considered more effective than true citronella as an insect repellent. You can buy Thai lemon grass at garden centers and supermarkets, and it grows readily into a clump about 15″ across and about 2ft tall. To use as a mosquito repellent, break a stalk off from the clump, peel off the outer leaves, until you find the scallion-like stem at the base. Bend the stem between your fingers, loosening it, and then rub it vigorously between your palms – it will soon become a pulpy, juicy mass. Rub this over all exposed skin, covering thoroughly at least once. You can also make a tincture using alcohol, for spray applications. Plantings around the patio will also help repel mosquitoes.

Is DEET safe?

The active ingredient in most chemical-based mosquito repellents is DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), developed by the US military in the 1940s. This powerful chemical is absorbed readily into the skin, and should be used with caution. Common side-effects to DEET-based products include rash, swelling, itching and eye-irritation, often due to over-application. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents used on children contain no more than 10% DEET. Parents should assist children in applying DEET-based products.

Recent research suggests that DEET products, used sparingly for brief periods, are relatively safe. Other research points to toxic encephalopathy associated with use of DEET insect repellents. Experts warn that DEET shouldn’t be used in combination with sun-screen because DEET shouldn’t be reapplied often.