As a rule, I avoid the urge to feel badly for my kids. The little bumps in their road are far outweighed by the advantages of being a child in suburban America today. But, my eight year old is a target for mosquitos and I can’t help but go against my grain and be sympathetic – even as she complains for the umpteenth time. At an outdoor party, if everyone else gets one or two bites, she is covered. Admittedly, it comes in handy because she is a safe, all-natural bug repellant. If I keep her close to me, chances are the bugs will pass me over en route to her juicy little arms. Ironically, and somewhat unfortunately, her nickname is Beana Bug, or simply just bug. This got me to wondering if I should be more selective in the nicknames for my little boys. Maybe the nickname is the attraction. Perhaps I should call the twins Brad and Sting – just for the fun of it, to see what might fly our way.
1. Prepping your environment – To keep bugs, especially mosquitos, bees and flies, away, try the following. Get rid of any stagnant water. Clean your garbage pails and recycling bins as bees love empty bottles and cans and flies love poop (that’s a technical term.) Yard Guard works and while some question its safety, it has been approved by the FDA. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about Listerine and the benefits of spraying it around an area you want to keep bug free. I haven’t tried it yet but I will and I’ll let you know. If you are having a party, plug in a fan. Mosquitos hate wind.
2. Getting dressed – If you are going hiking, try to clothe as much skin as possible. Wear pants tucked into socks. While this wasn’t even a good look when it was popular in the eighties, ticks have a tendency to hide in high grasses and attach to your legs as you walk by. Wearing light colored clothes will allow you to spot a tick on your clothes before it has a chance to get to your skin. Reportedly, mosquitos are goth-like and prefer dark clothing. You can also treat your clothes, tents, etc. with permethrin which repels and kills mosquitos, ticks and spiders. If you are going on a picnic, avoid clothes that make you look like a flower because, while bees are hard-working, they aren’t very smart. Also, to ward off bees, try not to smell sweet. To ward off flies, try not to smell like …
3. Bug Spray. Does it work? Is it safe? According to the CDC, you should be wearing a layer of bug spray every time you might come into contact with a mosquito. Its effectiveness comes from its ability to make you unattractive to a female mosquito. Maybe we should wear gold chains and expose hairy chests? Anyway, the active ingredients, DEET and picaridin, are two substances approved by the FDA that work. The percentage of active ingredient will give you an indication of how long it will be effective. If you are going to be out for hours, consider using a product with more active ingredient. For instance, a product with 23% DEET will work for about 5 hours, while one with 5% DEET will work for about 1 1/2 hours. You should reapply when you start getting bit again. While there are many studies proving the efficacy of DEET and picaridin, many people are concerned about safety. Avoid getting it in your mouth and eyes, but other than that, according to the FDA and the EPA, they are safe. Products with oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-derived ingredient, works about as well as a product with a small amount of DEET.
4. Bug repellant for children – Don’t use bug spray on children less than two months old. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a product with less of the active ingredient. If you read the labels, you will find that the family-friendly products have a lower percentage of DEET. You will find you need to reapply more often. When applying bug spray to children, it is better to spray it on your hands first and then rub it on. Keep the product far from their eyes and mouth and if they get any on their hands, make sure to wash them immediately with soap and water – to avoid them rubbing their eyes, putting their hands in their mouth or touching food. I find it interesting that the natural product, oil of lemon eucalyptus, is not recommended for children under three.
5. Alternative remedies. I am just going to list what I’ve heard. I can’t speak to the usefulness of these suggestions but if you are up to it, give them a try. There are no studies to confirm the effectiveness of these techniques, but there are many people claiming they work — Rubbing dryer sheets on yourself and your clothes, using Vick’s Vapor Rub, not eating bananas during buggy months, taking a daily vitamin B1 supplement, planting marigolds in your yard.
It is observable fact that some people are more susceptible to bug bites. My nieces and nephews have been with me for a couple of days. With 15 kids running around, I have a headache and a decent study population. Some of them are covered head to toe with bites and some have only a couple. Of course, I tell the itchiest among them that the bugs like them because they are so sweet. Is this akin to telling a sopping, sobbing bride that it is good luck when it rains on her wedding day? According to experts, no. Even though it doesn’t have to do with sweetness, about 10% of the population does, in fact, attract more mosquitos. Scientists are testing all kinds of substances to see what it is about certain people that makes their blood more appetizing. So far, cholesterol, carbon dioxide and certain acids are topping the list. Luckily, pinot grigio has not yet come under scrutiny.