It’s August, and the bugs are biting. As cases of disease from mosquito, tick and flea bites rise with the temperatures, experts offer advice on taking simple precautions to prevent bug bites.
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the cases of bug-borne diseases more than tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016. Tick-borne diseases, primarily Lyme disease, account for much of the increase. The incidence of Lyme disease has nearly doubled since 2004, with more than 36,000 cases reported in 2016. The CDC reports the problem is likely much larger because the actual number of Lyme disease cases may be 10 times higher, affecting 300,000 people annually.
Experts predict bites and infections will continue to rise because of a warming climate that expands the habitat of species such as ticks and mosquitoes. With the increased need for protection, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that while there is no perfect or completely safe way to prevent bug bites, there are easy steps to help provide protection.
A number of factors should be considered when choosing a bug repellent: what part of the country you live in, where you plan to travel, whether you’re pregnant and whether you are planning to use the product on children. According to the available scientific literature, best bets are products made with active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved by the CDC.
The EWG’s Guide to Bug Repellents breaks down advice on what bug repellents are best for children, adults and women who are pregnant. The guide also goes beyond repellents to offer a list of do’s and don’ts for avoiding bug bites. It offers these general tips:
- Cover up with long sleeves and pants.
- Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas and nets over strollers and baby carriers.
- For short-time protection, consider botanical repellents like oil of lemon eucalyptus or 2-Undecanone, an EPA registered repellent that can be found naturally in many plants such as cloves, strawberries and tomatoes. Other options include 10-percent Picaridin or 10-percent DEET.
- For longer time protection, consider 20-percent Picaridin, IR 3535, 20- to 30-percent DEET time-release products or 30- to 40-percent oil of lemon eucalyptus.
- Use oil of lemon eucalyptus or its synthetic derivative PMD on children younger than three years old.
- Use more than 30-percent DEET on anyone.
- Use outdoor “fogger” insecticides because they contain more toxic ingredients than repellents applied to the skin.
- Use repellent candles. They may not be effective but can emit fumes that trigger respiratory problems.
- Use repellent mixed with sunscreen. If you reapply the sunscreen every two hours as advise, you will overexpose yourself to repellent.
- Use bug zappers or treated wristbands. They are ineffective.
Many people are concerned about the possible drawbacks of common repellent active ingredients, like DEET. EWG researchers state they have analyzed the science in depth and found that, with proper application and precaution, the active ingredients – Picaridin, DEET, and IR3535 – effectively reduce risk from life-altering disease and have very low toxicity concerns.
“Spending plenty of time outside, whether in your backyard, on the beach or on a family camping trip, is important,” said David Andrews, EWG senior scientist. “By taking a few simple steps, you can spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time worrying about bug bites.”