The Richmond-Petersburg area made it into the top fifteen U.S. cities with the worst mosquito problems. The statistic was based on the number of customers who requested mosquito control products. With the warm weather finally here, the threat of insect-transmitted diseases makes it necessary to think about protection during outdoor activities.
There are many insect repellant products touted as effective, but products containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus (para-methane-diol) are most effective against mosquitoes. These products are safe to apply directly to the skin and provide the longest lasting protection.
DEET (diethyl methylbenzamide) is the chemical used in insect repellents that’s been shown to be most effective against mosquitoes, ticks and other arthropods. DEET has been studied more than any other repellent since its introduction in the 1960’s. Though some still question its safety, there have been less than 50 serious cases of toxicity involving the chemical in an estimated eightbillion human applications. These cases occurred when using higher concentrations of the chemical on larger surfaces of the body. Current applications give a concentration of about 10-30 percentt DEET. It is, however, still not recommended for children under the age of two to three months.
Picaridin is also a synthetic compound first made in the 1980s. Picaridin repels insects, ticks and chiggers. It was made to resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in the group of plants that are used to produce black pepper. Picaridin has been widely used as an insect repellent in Europe and Australia, but has only been available in the United States since 2005.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus has been found to provide protection against insect bites similar to lower concentrations of DEET. This means that a product containing a 30 percent concentration of oil of lemon eucalyptus is roughly equal to a product containing about 15 percent DEET.
Another chemical, ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, which is in Skin So Soft, has been used as a bug repellant though not marketed for this use. Studies have shown that it provides protection for less than 10 minutes.
Studies on sound emitting devices showed them to be generally ineffective. Wristbands impregnated with repellents were effective only within a range of about two inches from the band.
Mosquitoes are attracted to smells at close range. Soaps, perfumes and hair products that have a floral fragrance will tend to draw mosquitoes. Dark clothes and body heat are also attractants.
From a distance of about 100 feet, mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide (CO2) given off from human breath and skin. This is the basis for some backyard mosquito traps that lure the bugs by emitting carbon dioxide and then trapping and killing them. These traps are an evolving technology and studies on their overall effectiveness are still ongoing. They seem to be effective in trapping large amounts of mosquitoes, but they also may attract an additional larger number of bugs to the surrounding area.There are other reported repellents that lack any scientific study to verify their effectiveness. These include topical Vick’s Vaporub, rubbing fabric softener sheets on the skin, ingestion of garlic capsules, and daily vitamin B1 tablets (thiamine).
In general, there are simple steps that may reduce mosquito bites. These include using fragrance-free cosmetics, choosing lighter colored clothing and wearing long sleeves and pants to cover the skin. These measures along with the application of a DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus-containing repellent to exposed skin should greatly reduce your chance of bites.
The content in this column is for informational purposes only. Consult your physician for appropriate individual treatment. Dr. Reynolds practices Family Medicine in Chesterfield.