How to protect against West Nile virus
West Nile Virus: Are You At Risk?
Just as heat waves are winding down and it's getting slightly more pleasant to spend your evenings outside, mosquitoes are setting up camp in your backyard. August and September are prime mosquito months, and this year, disease-carrying bloodsuckers are grabbing national headlines.
The mayor of Dallas, Texas, just declared an emergency, after 10 confirmed deaths in his city were attributed to West Nile, and the Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed 17 deaths across the state. Further north, a few cases of the rare eastern equine encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal, have been found in mosquitoes in Massachusetts.
MORE:Why Mosquitoes Bite You More Than Your Friends
But before you grab the nearest mosquito fumigants, stop! DEET, the most commonly used active ingredient in mosquito repellents, comes with some disturbing health problems, having been linked to everything from birth defects to neurological damage.
To add insult to injury, a study in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesfound that some disease-carrying mosquitoes are growing resistant to DEET. Female mosquitoes that carry dengue fever (yet another disease that has spread from the tropics to 28 US states) were not deterred by DEET—and they even passed that DEET-resistant trait to their offspring.
The good news is that these natural insect repellents are just as effective—if not more so—than DEET:
PicaridinA chemical derived from pepper, picaridin has shown the most promise as being an effective DEET replacement without any negative health effects. In fact, a study published in the 2004 issue of the journalTropical Medicine & International Healthfound that picaridin was more effective at repelling dengue-fever-spreading mosquitoes than DEET. You can find picaridin-containing products at most national drugstores. One option: Cutter 53663 Advanced 6-Ounce 7% Picaridin Insect Repellent Pump Spray (.89, amazon.com)
Oil of lemon eucalyptusThe only plant-based repellent recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oil of lemon eucalyptus is effective for warding off disease-carrying mosquitoes. A 2004 study in theJournal of Medical Entomologyfound that products containing 26% oil of lemon eucalyptus protected against West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes for about three hours longer than products containing 7% DEET. Look for products carrying at least 26% oil of lemon eucalyptus, such as Repel HG-406T Lemon Eucalyptus 4-Ounce Insect Repellent Pump Spray (.60, amazon.com).
IR3535It sounds more like a tax code than an insect repellent, but this ingredient, found in Avon Skin So Soft, was shown to be as effective as DEET against West Nile–carrying bloodsuckers, according to a study in theJournal of Medical Entomology. It's a synthetic version of amino acids found in vitamin B, and has been used for decades in Europe with no reported adverse side effects.
Other plant-based repellentsThat sameJournal of Medical Entomologystudy also looked at products containing soybean oil, citronella, neem oil, and geraniol (the oil found in geraniums), and found that while all were effective against mosquitoes for up to three hours, soybean oil was the most effective of the four. Soybean oil worked for more than seven hours, just as long as products containing 15% DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535.
Video: West Nile Virus: Your Risk
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