It's that time of year again... warm weather, baseball games, late nights on the back porch, cookouts, hikes in the woods, and bugs.
The most common pesty bugs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are mosquitos and ticks. Mosquitoes can carry several viruses that cause encephalitis (brain inflammation), and ticks can carry lyme, borrelia, anaplasmosis, and other similar diseases. Remember to check for ticks every day, it's the tick you don't see that causes infection. As long as you get the tick off within 72 hours, the risk of disease is very low.
You can't stay indoors all summer, so what can you do to keep the bugs at bay?
To DEET or not to DEET ...
DEET is the chemical N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide. It is the most common active ingredient in insect repellants, and will provide protection against mosquito bites,tick bites, flea bites, chiggers, and many other biting insects. Of all the available chemical insect repellents, it is the only one that has really been proven to work. We (and the AAP) strongly recommend the use of DEET for insect protection. 25% DEET is recommended for best protection from both mosquitoes AND ticks (do not use above 30% in children)..
DEET should be applied only once per day to clothing or exposed skin. Try to limit direct contact with the hands, eyes, mouth, and large surface areas of skin. All insect repellants are best applied outdoors to avoid inhaling the spray. Never use combination sunscreen and bugspray! Once you come back indoors, wash any exposed skin with soap and water.
If you really don't want to use DEET, a compound called Picaridin is available in some insect repellants as well. Picaridin has been shown to be as effective as DEET for several species of mosquito but there is limited data on its effectiveness against ticks, and so far does not seem to be as effective. If you choose Picaridin, you want the highest concentration available.
Other insect repellants like Skin-so-soft, Citronella candles, wrist bands, and other botanical oils have not been shown to greatly decrease the number of bites and ticks.
What should you wear?
In the evening and when hiking, try to wear light-colored long pants and socks. Ticks can't jump but they climb and then hang on. When your shoes or legs brush against the grass, they cling to your leg. Tucking your pants into your socks will help prevent ticks from biting.
How do you protect your back yard?
- Keep your lawn cut short: deer, mice, and other rodents who carry ticks prefer long grasses.
- Consider hiring a pesticide company to spray your lawn if you have a large amount of play space near the woods
- Limit pools of standing water near the house (bird baths, ponds), and if you do have standing water, either stir up the water a couple times a week (this prevents mosquito eggs from hatching), or use mosquito dunks to prevent eggs from hatching.
- Move wood piles and bird feeders further away from the house - these are attractive playgrounds to those pesky rodents.
Now, go outside and play!