Don't Let Summer Be a Bummer: Protect Yourself From Biting Insects

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With the weather warming up, many Californians will be heading outdoors for summer fun. To keep it enjoyable and safe, DPR recommends people take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families from pests like mosquitos, ticks and fleas which, a new federal report suggests, are an increasing health threat.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that the number of people in the U.S. contracting mosquito, tick and flea-borne illnesses has more than tripled over the past dozen years. The report also found the number of diseases being transmitted - from dengue fever to Lyme disease, to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, West Nile virus, and Zika - has risen.

To protect yourself, your family and your pets, DPR suggests the judicious use of pesticides like insect repellants and, before that, taking preventative steps.

Beware the bite!

Mosquito
Man cleaning a swinning pool

Mosquitos are the most notorious disease vector. They can carry a range of viruses now found in the Unites States, including dengue fever, West Nile, and Zika.

To protect yourself and your family, you should:

  • Make sure your home's door and window screens are bug tight, keeping unwanted pests out.
  • Empty containers, no matter how small, that have standing water in them. Stagnant water is a breeding ground.
  • When practical, stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active - early evening, dawn and sunset.
  • Wear light colored, loose-fitting, long clothing to cover your skin. Mosquitoes can also bite through clothing, so applying a repellant to your clothes may provide some added protection. Read the repellant label first to make sure it won't damage your clothes. Netting - like hats with a mesh that covers the face and neck -- may also provide some cover.
  • Use repellant when you’ll be outside for even a short time. Reapply, according to the product instructions, if you are being physically active and/or sweating.

What repellants work?

A variety of repellants on the market can help protect people. But buyers should be aware that some have proven to be better than others, and that some products that make it to store shelves have not been proven effective or safe for consumers or the environment. Always look for an "EPA Registration" number on the package, which shows it has undergone testing for efficacy and safety.

CDC, U.S. EPA and other studies have shown products containing DEET or Picaridin are most effective. Look for these contents on the product label. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (called PMD) has been shown to provide protection similar to a low concentration of DEET.

Following the directions on the product label is critical to safe and effective use. The lowest effective concentrations should be used, with reapplication if that doesn’t work. Note that repellants work along the surface they’re applied to, so you may still see mosquitoes but, if they’re not landing on you, you should be OK.

Get ticked off

Ticks can carry a variety of diseases – including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever -- so shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Tick

To protect yourself, CDC and other organizations recommend staying out of areas with leaf litter and high grass. Ticks cling to high grasses and can be rubbed off on to you, your family or your pets as you pass through. Sound advice is, when outdoors, stay in the middle of paths.

Repellants containing 20 percent or more DEET, Picaridin or IR3535 are effective, according to U.S. EPA. Again, always follow label instructions for how a repellant should be applied to you and your family members.

Other products for ticks and fleas are available for pets. Check with your veterinarian.

People can get an added layer of protection treating clothing and gear with products containing permethrin. Pretreated clothing is also available at many sporting goods stores. Look for items that have been registered with U.S. EPA.

If you’ve been outdoors, check your body or your family member’s body, as soon as practical, such as when bathing. Checking within two hours is recommended. Ticks gravitate toward warm and protected areas, so check armpits, inside belly button, between legs and around the waist, ears, and head.

Also, check your pets and gear before entering the house to avoid bringing hitchhikers indoors.

Treat your fleas

Flea

Fleas, which become most active in spring and summer, are also a pest to be wary of.

Flea bites to humans can spread bacteria and cause allergic reactions. In North America, flea transmitted viral diseases are very rare, though some cases of typhus and plague have been reported in recent years, according to CDC data.

More often, fleas can spread diseases that can affect animals including pets, such as heartworm. Check with your veterinarian for treatment options.

While rarely needed, according to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, you can contact pest control companies about controlling fleas outdoors in your yard. In the home, frequent vacuuming can help control populations. There also are a number of pesticide products available at stores. If you’re a DIYer, remember it’s critical to follow the product labels carefully to avoid injury. They’ll specify things like how much should be used, protective equipment required, and re-entry times.

For more on protecting yourself and family from mosquitoes, see DPR’s Fight the Bite, PDF fact sheet.

For UC IPM information on controlling fleas and other pests, see UC IPM’s Quick Tips webpage.

The California Department of Public Health maintains webpages on vector-borne diseases and prevention.

U.S. EPA has a webpage that helps consumers pick the right repellant for their needs.


For content questions, contact:
Craig Cassidy
Public Information Officer I
DPR Office of Communications
1001 I Street, P.O. Box 4015
Sacramento, CA 95812-4015
Phone: (916) 445-5815
E-mail: Craig.Cassidy@cdpr.ca.gov