If you sit outside to enjoy a summer Philly evening, chances are you’ve come home with a few mosquito bites.
These pesky bugs aren’t just annoying; they also carry diseases such as West Nile virus. A large number of mosquitoes in Philadelphia have tested positive for the virus this year — though only one person has contracted the disease so far. Although summer is coming to an end, mosquitoes do not disappear overnight. West Nile virus season extends into October.
» READ MORE: Philadelphia mosquitoes experience active West Nile virus season
The Inquirer asked a pest control specialist, a biologist, and a pediatrician for advice on preventing and treating mosquito bites.
“Mosquitoes thrive in areas with standing water,” said E. Qadir Martin, chief operating officer of Philly-based Alpha to Omega Termite & Pest Control.
Get rid of anything that can hold water – from soda bottle caps to discarded tires. Regularly drain water from flower pots, pet water bowls, pool covers and boxes. Drain the pools and store them on their side. Be sure to clear clogged rain gutters.
Martin recommends keeping grasses under three inches. Tall grass is a great breeding ground for mosquitoes, he said.
After eliminating permanent water sources and cutting the grass to about three inches, the battle is mostly won. “As hard as it is for everyone to do it, that’s the point,” he said.
» READ MORE: West Nile virus first found in Philadelphia mosquitoes this summer
“Mosquitoes are really poor fliers,” said Matt Helwig, a West Nile virus program specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Conservation.
This means that a fan can go a long way in preventing mosquito bites while spending time on the porch, lawn, or backyard. They won’t be able to fly with the fan’s wind to get to you.
“When I sit outside, I just have a fan and I don’t get bitten by mosquitoes,” Helwig said.
Don’t miss out on a beautiful summer day because you can’t completely rid your yard of mosquitoes.
Long-sleeved shirts and pants are good protection against insect bites, especially during times of day when mosquitoes are most active, Helvig said.
“Mosquitoes involved in the transmission of West Nile virus are most active in the evening for about two hours,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a repellent with one of these active ingredients:
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE)
According to the CDC, children younger than 3 should not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD).
Some parents worry about applying the chemical to their children, but DEET has been studied extensively in children, said Jonathan Miller, MD, a pediatrician and chief of primary care at Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware.
“The great thing about it is not only is it safe, but it also helps keep bugs away,” he said.
» READ MORE: Backyard Mosquito Repellents But Can Be Very Deadly
DEET products are safe for children at least 2 months old, Miller said. He recommends products with 10% to 30% DEET. If the repellent comes in a spray form, don’t spray it on children’s hands, who might get it in their eyes or mouth, she says.
Parents don’t have to worry about getting a professional to treat their yard or lawn with natural or chemical agents to keep mosquitoes at bay, Miller said. There is a period of time that children and pets must be kept away after treatment, and she recommends asking the professionals how long.
“The benefit of tick and mosquito bite prevention for your family outweighs any minimal risk that may come with these things,” he said.
Despite your best efforts, there’s a chance you’ll get bitten eventually. Treat unavoidable mosquito bites, which can lead to infections, instead of scratching.
Try applying a cold compress immediately after the bite reduce swelling. Calamine lotion, baking soda, or 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream can help relieve discomfort. An antihistamine such as cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine may also help.
Allergic reactions to mosquito or insect bites are rare, but watch out for hives, swelling or any breathing problems, especially in children. These are signs to call 911 or see a doctor. If the bite does not improve, new redness develops, or the area appears infected, contact your primary care physician.