Family Health Magazine - PREVENTION
Keeping insects at bay
Itching and swelling aren’t the only problems you can experience after being bitten by an insect or tick. Conditions like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease can seriously threaten health. Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your family in various ways.
Personal insect repellents (better known as bug spray) are chemicals applied to skin and sometimes clothing. They interfere with mosquitoes and ticks, making it hard for them to detect and bite people. Insect repellents do not kill insects. They should not be used on or near food or pets.
In Canada, insect repellents must be approved and registered by Health Canada. Approved products have a pest control product (PCP) registration number on the label. Only products with a PCP registration number, labelled as an insect repellent, are for use on humans. Products labelled as an insecticide should never be used on people.
When used correctly along with other forms of protection, insect repellents can effectively safeguard you and your family.
The length of time that insect repellent protects you varies depending on the type. Different repellents contain varying chemicals and concentrations. Your actions, including sweating, getting wet and towelling off, also affect the way repellents work.
DEET products are the most effective against ticks and certain insects. DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) disrupts receptors in a mosquito’s antennae that help it to find people. In other words, it makes people invisible to mosquitoes.
- Those aged 12 or older should use a product with 30 per cent (or less) of DEET. It can be reapplied when needed, following the product directions. Depending on the concentration, each application should provide protection for about six hours. A product with 20 to 30 per cent of DEET can also repel ticks, but the effects may not last as long.
- For children between two to 12 years, apply a 10 per cent (or less) DEET product up to three times a day. Each application should protect about three hours.
- With children six months to two years, use only one application of a 10 per cent (or less) DEET product per day. This application should protect around three hours against most mosquitoes. Avoid repeated use.
- Do not use products containing DEET on infants under six months of age. Non-chemical forms of protection are advised. For instance, use an intact mosquito net with an elastic edge tightly tucked into a crib, playpen, carrier, stroller or car seat.
- Repellents containing DEET are considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, consider non-chemical forms of protection, such as avoiding bites and wearing protective clothing, first.
Alternatives to DEET products
- For children over three years of age, apply a product containing 10 per cent PMD (p-menthane 3,8-diol) only twice per day. Each application should protect up to two hours against most mosquitoes.
- Finally, considering using a product containing two per cent soybean oil. This natural repellent should protect up to three and half hour hours against most mosquitoes. Soybean oil products can be applied as often as you wish, and can often be used on babies and children.
Travelling outside of Canada
If you are heading to areas with serious insect or tick diseases, visit a travel clinic at least six to eight weeks before your trip. You may need certain medications and immunization to protect yourself against these diseases.
Using repellents safely
- Always read the entire product label carefully before applying a repellent. Follow all directions, including any restrictions on age and number and frequency of daily applications.
- If you think you might be sensitive to a product, apply it to a small area of skin on one arm. Wait 24 hours to see if you react before applying it elsewhere.
- If you suspect you are reacting to a product, stop using it immediately. Rinse the affected skin with soap and water. If you seek medical attention, take the product container with you.
- Only use spray repellents where there is good ventilation. Avoid breathing the mist.
- Avoid applying insect repellent on your eyes or mouth. Apply it to your hands first and then rub over your face, neck, and around the ears. Wash your hands afterward to avoid getting repellent in your eyes or mouth. If it gets in your eyes, immediately rinse them with water for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Apply repellents sparingly. It is not necessary to soak yourself. Just use a thin layer – enough to lightly cover exposed skin and the surface of clothing. Do not apply under clothing or on open wounds, cuts, or to irritated or sunburned skin.
- If you no longer need repellent, such as when returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water. Remember to wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
Tips about kids
- Keep all products out of reach of children and store them according to label directions.
- Do not allow children to handle insect repellent products. Adults should always apply them on children.
- Do not use insect repellent on or near a child’s face or hands. This helps keep the child from breathing the product or getting it in the eyes or mouth.
Using repellents with sunscreens
- Separate sunscreen and insect repellent products can be used at the same time before going outdoors.
- To properly apply both products, follow all the directions on each product label. Always apply sunscreen first and allow it to penetrate skin for 20 minutes before applying repellent.
- Sunscreen is usually applied in larger amounts and more often, while insect repellent is applied in smaller amounts and only when needed.
Other ways to protect yourself
The first defence against insect and tick bites is to avoid times of day when they are most active and areas where they are most common.
- Although mosquitoes can bite any time, avoid being outdoors at dawn or dusk, particularly from the middle of April to end of September or first frost. Most mosquitoes are most active during these hours.
- Avoid trail edges, particularly wooded, bushy areas that have tall grass and leaf litter. Ticks are often found here. Instead, always walk in the middle of a trail and avoid brushing against vegetation.
Secure the area
- Make certain screens on windows and doors fit tightly, with no tears or gaps. Ensure that doors close properly. Close off or repair other possible access points for insects (like vents).
- Use tightly tucked mosquito nets, with no tears, when sleeping in unscreened areas. This is particularly important for infants under six months of age. While under the net, keep exposed skin away from the mesh as some insects can still bite through it.
- Remove standing (stagnant) water from your property. This stops mosquitoes from laying their eggs nearby. Change water in bird baths, pet bowls, and watering tanks twice a week. Empty and cover rain barrels with mesh. Eliminate even small amounts of standing water from ditches and outdoor items like cans, containers, buckets, pots, saucers and tires. Drain pool covers and wading pools. Aerate pools and ponds. Cleaning gutters will prevent clogs that trap water.
- Keep grass well cut, remove leaf litter, and clear brush – this helps reduce areas where ticks, and the small animals ticks feed on, like to live.
Wear protective clothing
Dress to protect yourself before going outdoors, particularly to areas where ticks are often found.
- Wear light-coloured clothing. This helps reduce your attractiveness to mosquitoes and allows you to see and remove ticks more easily. Note that mosquitoes may be able to bite through thin clothing.
- Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt, full-length pants, and closed shoes. Keep sleeves closed with tape or elastic bands, tuck shirts into pants, and pant legs into socks or boots. This helps keep ticks and insects away from the skin.
- Always check for ticks on clothing and bare skin (and your pets) when you return from areas where ticks live.
Using simple precautions against insects and ticks can protect you and your family while you enjoy the great outdoors.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [PR_FHa10]