Protection is a must during high mosquito season

West Nile virus is still a serious threat M-y if you must be out, consider a repellent

Health & Fitness

August 22, 2004|By Katie Leslie | Katie Leslie,SUN STAFF

The summer season may soon be over, but no one has told the mosquitoes.

ItM-Fs prime time for the pesky insects, making bug repellents and other precautionary measures necessary in many outdoor situations. Packed inside golf bags, picnic baskets and tackle boxes are all manner of sprays, balms and specialized clothing.

And with the lingering threat of West Nile virus, choosing the best protection against mosquitoes is more than just a passing fancy for many.

There have been no reported cases of West Nile in Maryland this year. But nationally, the virus has claimed 576 lives since 1999, with 14,662 total infections. Last year in Maryland, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, there were eight West Nile-related deaths.

M-tWest Nile is certainly not abundant right now, but that doesnM-Ft mean you are safe,M-v said Cy Lesser, chief of the mosquito control section for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. M-tWeM-Fre at the time of year of highest risk, where we start seeing cases occur. People should be aware that [the virus] is probably still out there.M-v

Buz Meyer, owner of Meyer Station nature preserve in Odenton, has been in the outdoor business for 30 years and has tried all kinds of mosquito repellents, including those containing the effective, and somewhat controversial, chemical known as DEET.

MeyerM-Fs latest favorite is an all-natural product called Anti-Bug balm. M-tEven if I put it on in the morning, it still works after dark,M-v he said. M-tItM-Fs the best, no question.M-v

Badgerbalm, the New Hampshirebased company that has marketed Anti-Bug balm for about three years, said the natural repellents in the product include olive, citronella and rosemary oils M-y ingredients that founder Bill Whyte says have been proven safe over thousands of years of use.

M-tThe worst thing about natural products is that they donM-Ft last as long as DEET,M-v said Whyte. M-tSo I just reapply it, because at least I know itM-Fs safe on my skin.M-v

Many people swear by products such as AvonM-Fs Skin-So- Soft or Deep Woods Off, which contains DEET. Lesser and his mosquito control crew use DEET every day at work, he said.

According to a 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, products containing DEET offered the best protection from m o s q u i t o e s . The concentration of DEET didnM-Ft indicate its strength against repelling bugs; rather, it indicated the length of time it was effective.

In the study, where DEET was compared with natural products containing oil of eucalyptus, soybean oil and citronella, a 23.8 percent concentration of DEET was shown to ward off mosquito bites for 301.5 minutes, whereas a 30 percent concentration of eucalyptus oil came in second at 120.1 minutes.

Even a 6.7 percent DEET concentration level was shown more effective than soybean and citronella, keeping mosquitoes at bay for 112.4 minutes.

Still, despite the Environmental Protection AgencyM-Fs safety approval, some are wary of DEET, fearing possible long-term effects from using the chemical.

M-tAs far as mosquitoes, unless they are really bad, I donM-Ft use DEET, because IM-Fm not entirely comfortable with putting it on my body,M-v said Sgt. Fran Gower, park ranger supervisor at Sandy Point State Park near the Bay Bridge. M-tI take safety measures, but IM-Fm not putting insecticide on me every day.M-v

Susan Little, executive director of the DEET Education Program in Washington, countered that since DEET was approved by the EPA in 1957, it has been used M-tbillionsM-v of times. Out of those uses, she added, M-tthe numbers of adverse-related events are minuscule.M-v

Mosquitoes are attracted to humans primarily by carbon dioxide and lactic acid, according to Jonathan Day, professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida. Scientists believe that DEET works by M-tconfusingM-v the mosquitoesM-F receptors to keep them from biting. Scientists are unclear how natural repellents work, as is BadgerbalmM-Fs founder Bill Whyte.

M-tIn nature, plants like cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, geranium and citronella tend to be insect resistant,M-v he said. M-tIt seems only natural that these same essential oils, in concentrations similar to those present in the plants themselves, when applied to a humanM-Fs skin, would also be unattractive to insects.M-v

An alternative to bug spray is protective clothing. Buzz Off Insect Shield Insect Repellent apparel, for example, is a line of socks, shirts and pants made with permethrin, a repellent made from chrysanthemums, within its fabric. Wearing the clothing allows you to avoid sprays and lotions.

Buzz Off is the first line of apparel to receive approval from the EPA. ItM-Fs not cheap, however. Socks cost $18, long-sleeved shirts are anywhere from $69-$84, and pants are $79.

Mosquitoes typically bite at dawn and dusk. To keep them at bay, experts suggest wearing loose, light-colored and long-sleeved clothing. If you use repellent, read directions carefully. But even in the face of pesky critters and threats like West Nile, some people, like park ranger Fran Gower, see mosquitoes as simply part of nature.

M-tThis is my job,M-v she said. M-tIf I had to worry about everything that could hurt me, weM-Fd all be indoors.M-v

How long repellents work

Below are the ingredients and concentrations used in mosquito repellents and the average number of minutes before test subjects were bitten.

Ingredient...Concentration...Minutes before bite

DEET... 23.8%...301.5

Oil of eucalyptus... 30%...120.1

DEET...6.7%... 112.4

Soybean oil... 2%... 94.6 DEET...4.8%...88.4

Citronella...10%...19.7

Source: New England Journal of Medicine

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