How to Protect Against Mosquitoes: Tips for Staying Safe

A hike in the woods can be beautiful, refreshing, and calming — until you are swatting mosquitoes on your right, left, and everywhere in between.

Think Pigpen, from the Peanuts comic strip, only surrounded by a swarm of bloodsuckers.

Taking some simple steps for mosquito safety before you head out into the woods or along the dusty trail — like packing mosquito spray — can help you avoid being eaten alive.

man in woods swatting mosquito

To avoid being eaten alive on the trail or while enjoying the outdoors, take some simple steps to protect yourself. Photo: Fusilli via Flickr

Deadly Nuisance

While we’re busy focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of warmer weather and the itch to get out and play will bring new health threats. Chief among them is mosquitoes.

The little blood-suckers may seem like more of a nuisance than a threat, but they’re actually the most dangerous animal on Earth. Mosquitoes can carry Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya, and malaria. It’s estimated mosquito-borne diseases kill 1 million people a year worldwide.

That’s a good reason to treat mosquitoes like more than just a pest. Think of them like a predator, and protect yourself against an invasion.

 

Mosquitos can carry an array of viruses and should be treated as more than a pest. Photo: James Gathany, USCDCP via Pixnio

How to Keep Mosquitoes Away

Here are a few things to keep in mind for mosquito safety as you’re trying to keep the mosquitos away.

Location, location, location

If you’re hiking in a swampy, boggy area, don’t wear shorts and short sleeves. If you’ve seen or heard news reports of mosquitoes carrying encephalitis or Zika in your area, find somewhere indoors like a museum to get in your steps.

Unless you live in or visit Austin, mosquitoes will be looking to feast on you during spring, summer, and fall. What makes Austin so special? Bats. Austin’s bats eat mosquitoes, so the Texas city renowned for its music is also known for being skeeter-free.

So go ahead and hike around Ladybird Lake in your shorts. Austin is a virtual mosquito-free zone.

But, you don’t have to build a bat house to keep the mosquitoes away. Just keep in mind: The pests can’t tolerate hot, direct sunlight. They’re likely to be active in shady areas and in the moderate temperatures of morning and evening.

Read More: Ticked Off: Protect Yourself from Lyme Disease

woman spraying mosquito repellant in outdoors

Wear long pants when you can and apply mosquito repellant to areas of your skin that aren’t covered. Photo: encierro via Shutterstock

Mosquito Safety When Hiking

Before heading out for that hike:

  • Apply mosquito repellents that contain DEET. This includes popular brands such as Off! And Cutter. Apply to exposed skin, but do not get it around your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • If possible, postpone the hike and stay indoors at times when mosquitoes are most active, usually dawn and dusk.
  • Wear long-sleeved and long-legged clothing in the early morning and at sunset. You can always shed layers as the day goes on. The more skin you cover the better protected you are from mosquito bites.
  • Wear light-colored clothes. For reasons scientists don’t entirely understand, mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing.
  • A brisk wind blows mosquitoes away – literally. A breezy day is ideal for romping outdoors.

Protect Your Yard

Many mosquito-prone cities and counties have vector control programs. They spray entire neighborhoods and wildlife areas to protect us from mosquitoes carrying Zika and West Nile. This is helpful but not entirely effective. The sprays require direct contact with the insects, which isn’t always possible.

If you live in mosquito-prone areas such as the Great Lakes region or the northeastern U.S., you can protect your yard by spraying. The most effective repellents contain pyrethroid. These products should be used strategically where the mosquitoes hang out, not as a whole-yard treatment. Beware that some commercial treatments will also kill beneficial insects. That’s why it’s best to take some preventive measures towards mosquito safety.

truck sprays for bugs in CA

If you’ll be spending time outdoors near your home, you’ll also want to keep your yard protected from mosquitoes. Photo: George Champagne via U.S National Archives Public Archive

Proactive Steps for Your Yard

To keep mosquitos at bay in your yard:

  • Eliminate all standing water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water and can do so in as little as a bottle cap full of water. Empty or frequently change pets’ water bowls, kiddie pools, birdbaths, or other water sources.
  • Keep your yard trimmed. Mosquitoes like to hang out in tall grass and weeds. Eliminate their lounging places.
  • Plant mosquito-repellent plants. Citronella grass, lavender, marigolds, mint, and sage are among those that help ward off the bugs. Citronella candles help keep mosquitoes at bay. None of these deterrents actually kill mosquitoes.
  • Try magnets, zappers, and other gadgets. These devices are available at nurseries, home centers, and online. These can kill mosquitoes but will not deter them from infesting your yard.

Don’t Forget Your Pets

Our dogs love the outdoors as much as we do, perhaps even more. But mosquitoes pose a danger to them as well so we still need to follow tips for mosquito safety. In fact, mosquito bites are a leading source of heartworms in dogs, which can be deadly.

Spray a pet-safe repellent on him and reapply it often. Do NOT use products containing DEET on animals. Pet stores and veterinarians carry repellents that may be effective against mosquitoes. (Lemon eucalyptus spray works great!) Read the labels carefully to make sure the product is safe.

If your dog is on monthly heartworm medication, a mosquito bite shouldn’t cause any long-term side effects… other than incessant itching. You should also consider keeping Fido and Max indoors when mosquitoes are swarming, especially in the early morning or evening hours.

Read More: Benefits and Tips for Snowshoeing with Pets

dog in grass being sprayed with bug repellant

Make sure your dog is protected too, but be careful so you don’t use sprays containing DEET. Photo: Aleksey Boyko via Shutterstock

Once Bitten…

Even the mosquitoes that don’t carry disease still leave you with itchy bites. You probably have things in your home that will relieve the discomfort. Calamine lotion is an all-time favorite treatment, but dabbing on a little aloe vera, oatmeal, onion, garlic, or vinegar can also help.

Tempting as it is, scratching bites can make them itch more. It can also cause them to become infected. Swatting at the mosquitoes is usually a waste of time since those little buggers are more than happy to bite the hand that feeds them.

What other recommendations do you have for mosquito safety in the summer? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

About the author

Kate Newberry

Kate Newberry writes about camping and hiking for several publications. She and her family have hiked everything from the Big Dalton Canyon in California to Pikes Peak in Colorado and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. She admits it sometimes takes an hour to get the kids lathered up with bug repellent before a major hike.

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