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West Nile Mosquitoes Are Back. How Families Can Keep Safe

Insect repellent is just the beginning.

Flickr/Oregon State University-Centers for Disease Control

We’ll give you the bad news first. The West Nile virus, the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States, is officially back. As of August 6, 128 cases have been reported in 18 states, and four people have died from the disease, according to CDC data.

The good news is that there’s a lot that you can do to keep yourself and your family safe despite the fact that no vaccine or antiviral treatments are available. The most effective methods are all aimed at preventing bites in the first place.

  • Use an insect repellent on yourself. This one seems like a no-brainer. The EPA recommends repellents with DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, and/or 2-undecanone. There’s an online tool to help you pick, but all are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant women.
  • Apply insect repellent to your kids. Spray it on any exposed skin except for their face, which you should rub repellent on after spraying it onto your hands. Avoid getting repellent onto any wounds, irritated skin, or orifices, and make sure not to use oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on kids under three years old.
  • Use physical barriers to keep kids two months and younger away from mosquitos. The CDC recommends dressing newborns in clothing that covers arms and legs and draping mosquito netting over strollers and baby carriers.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Clothing that’s been treated with permethrin, an insecticide that kills mosquitoes, is particularly effective. It’s been shown to work even after multiple washings, but make sure you keep a layer between any permethrin-treated clothes and your skin.
  • Batten down the hatches. Don’t assume your home will naturally keep out mosquitos. Check any window and door screens, repairing holes to keep mosquitoes from penetrating. Air conditioning can also serve as a deterrent. Drape mosquito netting over your kid’s crib.
  • Regularly change any outdoor water sources. Birdbaths, pools, flowerpots, and trash cans are among the containers that provide wet crevices for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. To prevent this, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out such containers once a week.

West Nile infections happen during mosquito season, which runs from summer into the fall. So even when temperatures start to dip and leaves begin to turn it’s still important to follow these precautions to protect your family.