Mosquito season is well upon us. Chances are, you live in an area that has a thriving population of mosquitoes or other nuisance insect biters. These pesky, irritating insects can pose a health concern. The bites can cause itchy allergic reactions and some of them spread diseases such as West Nile virus, malaria, Lyme or a newly-discovered virus called Chikungunya recognized by the CDC. 

Mosquitoes infected with a virus can transmit the virus to humans and lead to problems with swelling and inflammation of the brain. Chikungunya causes fever, joint pain and swelling, headache, muscle pain or rash. Even with the innumerable number of mosquitoes on this planet, it is unlikely that you will be bit by a mosquito and end up with a serious, life threatening infection, but these pests can certainly make an outdoor activity unpleasant with the uncomfortable bites. 

Prevention is worth a pound of cure. Traditional mosquito repellent sprays contain two popular insecticides, DEET or Picaridin. Did you know that DEET is a toxin to the nervous system and especially dangerous to infants? It should only be used a short period of time, and I have used it personally during tick season when I could have had a major exposure. But it begs the question, isn’t anything safer if you just want to go to the lake or the park?

A recent study compared DEET and Picaridin against four popular essential oils and it was published in the Journal of Vector Ecology, December 2014. They tested citronella, catnip, vetiver and hairy basil (yes “hairy” not holy basil). Of those, vetiver provided the strongest repellent effect against the insects. The popular synthetic insecticide Picaridin had the least effect of all against all the mosquito species tested. 

In another study with the malaria carrying mosquito, the best repellent activity occurred with hairy basil, lemongrass and citronella. Other helpful natural repellents include emu oil, lily turf or monkey grass, sweet wormwood oil or artemisia annua and ginger essential oil. Findings from these studies really lend support to the idea of using natural essential oils before smothering yourself with synthetic chemicals.

Make your own spray bottle of mosquito repellent by adding the following essential oils to 8 to 10 ounces of water (adjust oils based upon scent if you want):

8 drops vetiver

6 drops lavender

4 drops lemon 

2 drop ginger 

3 drops wormwood oil

Combine these oils together in the water and spray area or arms and legs. Do not spray into face. 

Here’s another yummy, easy idea. When barbecuing, include fresh rosemary or sage herb in your recipe; if you don’t want it on your food, place it on top of foil on the grill so the smoke (and aroma) act like a repellent.

Wear light long-sleeve clothing where possible. Make sure you have enough B complex on board, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that B deficient people are more attractive to mosquitoes.

Suzy Cohen can be reached at www.DearPharmacist.com

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