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Video: Bug off! How to keep insects away

TODAY
updated 7/26/2007 3:23:45 PM ET 2007-07-26T19:23:45

If you spend a lot of times outdoors, you've probably been bitten or stung by bugs.

Some bites will leave you scratching, while others could send you to the ER because of an allergic reaction or possible disease. Whatever the case, you want to take precaution and avoid getting bitten — you can apply bug repellent on the skin, or wear proper lightweight clothing which covers your legs, arms and neck.

For the most part, bug repellents do work, but it's only for a temporary period of time. You have to keep reapplying the spray, and if you're using a product with deet, it can be toxic, so you need to limit your use. Before you set off into the wild, Prevention magazine lists the best insect repellents and strategies:

About repellents
Each year, bug bites and stings send more than 500,000 people to emergency rooms every year with potentially fatal allergic reactions. Deet (stands for N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered the most effective repellent in bug sprays. It has scared away some consumers because of its potent chemical properties. In 1998, the EPA ruled DEET is safe for repelling mosquitoes and ticks; but it is a potentially toxic insect repellent (Apply products with DEET only every 6 to 8 hours).

Insect repellents can help reduce exposure to mosquito bites that may carry viruses such as West Nile virus and Lyme Disease that can cause serious illness and even death. Using insect repellent allows you to continue to play and work outdoors with a reduced risk of mosquito bites (Center of Disease Control).

How long do bug repellent last?
According to the CDC, you need to re-apply bug repellent if you are being bitten by mosquitoes. If you are sweating, perspiring or getting wet, you may need to apply it more frequently. Repellents containing a higher concentration (higher percentage) of active ingredient typically provide longer-lasting protection.

Preventative measures

Stay indoors at dawn and dusk, when the flying insects are most likely to hit.

Spread a 3-foot-wide swath of wood chips between your lawn and the woods to deter ticks, which can't navigate the chips. Get rid of standing water in your yard-a big breeding ground for mosquitoes. Clear clogs from gutters; change the water in birdbaths twice weekly and change pets' outdoor water dishes daily.

Wicknit Hoody/ Exofficio.com

Clothing
Avoid bright colors and floral patterns. Honeybees, wasps, and yellow jackets see in the ultraviolet spectrum and are attracted to bright colors and floral patterns. Wear light colors and long sleeve shirts and pants-and avoid sudden movements-to reduce your chances of being stung. Another tip is to drape mosquito netting over infant carriers whenever you take a baby outdoors, and try holding a branch above your head to deter flying bugs. Some mosquitoes and gnats naturally swarm to the highest part of the body-or to an extension of it.

Out-door apparel makers, including Ex Officio and L.L. Bean, market clothing made with Buzz Off, a Permanone-treated fabric designed as an alternative to topical repellents. Permanone's active ingredient is permethrin, a chemical that is safe for humans, according to the EPA, but not for bugs. When mosquitoes land on the material, they absorb the permethrin and eventually die. Buzz Off clothing has been registered by the EPA to be effective in repelling insects and lasts through 25 washings (don't dry clean or wash with other garments).

Vitamins
Take Vitamin B-1: Studies suggest taking 25 to 50 milligrams-a safe dosage for adults and children-of thiamin (vitamin B1) three times a day, starting two weeks before mosquito season. This reduces your chance of getting bitten because the vitamin produces and odor on your skin that wards off mosquitoes, although the odor is undetectable to humans.

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Traditional and natural (eco-friendly) repellents
Again, traditional repellents like Off or Raid contain the active ingredient Deet which repels mosquitos and other bugs. If you feel they're too harsh for the sky, try natural repellents that rely on herbal ingredients.

Herbal repellents work by masking human odors and fooling mosquitoes and other biting insects. Some repellents also use odors that are unpleasant to the bugs and deter them away from the scent. Plants whose essential oils are reputed to repel insects include cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, and peppermint.

A product containing 26% oil of lemon eucalyptus and a product containing 2% soybean oil have been shown to provide protection for up to 4 hours (New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene).

USDA trials have shown that some commercial repellents containing plant derivatives, rather than DEET, provide good protection from mosquito bites if applied frequently.

New Products
Bite Blocker Extreme — a spray made from coconut, geranium, soybean oils and a compound called BioUD, which is derived from a tomato plant. BioUD and Bite Blocker was tested by the USDA to last up to 8 hours, the same length of time that products that contain 15% DEET last for. It's an organic product that is sweat proof and waterproof and safe to use on children. It can be found at www.biteblocker.com.

Repel's Lemon Eucalyptus — the only organic repellent approved by the CDC, it will fend off mosquitoes for 4 hours. Extra bonus: You won't smell like a chemical lab; $7; www.repel.com

BugBand Geraniol Insect Repellent — this natural repellent is effective if you apply it diligently to areas that insects tend to go for: ankles, wrists, or your neck. This spray lotion contains the plant extract geraniol, an alternative to DEET, and fends off mosquitoes and other biting pests as well as DEET-based products do-for about two hours; www.bugband.net. Caveat: Experts do not recommend using both a bug repellent and sunscreen at the same time because the two should be applied with different frequencies. Apply sun protection, wait 30 minutes, then slather on the bug repellent. The time interval allows the sunscreen to absorb into and bind with your skin. If you apply one right after the other, their efficacy drops.

Citronella & gadgets

Mosquito Magic Clip-On Repellent-Mosquito magic is heat activated, so the hotter it is outside, the more active Mosquito Magic becomes. The clip is designed to last approximately 30 days although it can last longer if you throw it in the freezer between seasons. The repellent contains cedar, cinnamon, citronella, clove, lemongrass, mint, peppermint, rosemary and thyme oils; www.mosquitomagic.com

Way Out Wax Hemp Citronella Candle — ingredients include soy wax, beeswax, and hemp-seed and citronella oils; These candles biodegradable and are a good natural alternative to the citronella candles you find in supermarkets or department stores; www.wayoutwax.com

No Buzz Zone Patch — infused with insect repelling Citronella oil. The scent repels bugs before they land, and unlike sprays or lotions. The patch can be applied anywhere you don't want bugs: picnic tables, chairs, tents, umbrellas; It lasts for 12 hours, www.nobuzzzone.com

PIC Citronella Flying Insect Coil — Creates smoke barrier that drives mosquitoes, ticks, gnats away, can be used on patios, pools, campsites, beaches, picnic and barbecue areas; Each coil lasts for 5 to 7 hours; (might want to practice setting this one up in case they want to demonstrate using this) www.pic-corp.com

Solar Anti-Mosquito Guard — Pocket-sized devices emit a barely audible, high frequency wave that repels some mosquito species. Includes keychain and belt clip. Battery fully recharges in three hours of sunlight; www.gaiam.com

Safety for families
Although DEET is safe for kids 2 months and older, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for kids over age 2, stick with products that have less than 10 percent of DEET in them (adults can use products that have 10 to 50 percent DEET) Any product that has less then 10% of DEET is good for kids over 2 months (OFF! Skintastic has 6.65% and OFF! Skintastic for kids has 4.75%, OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellents have 5 to 7% of DEET).

According to the CDC, Parents should choose the type and concentration of repellent to be used by taking into account the amount of time that a child will be outdoors, exposure to mosquitoes, and the risk of mosquito-transmitted disease in the area. Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus (Avon) contains IR3535 and provides protection from bugs for up to an hour.

For more health and wellness tips, visit Prevention magazine.

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