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How you can best protect yourself against mosquito bites

How you can best protect yourself against mosquito bites

Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials

If you’re trying to avoid mosquito bites, there are four simple ways to do it: Cover up, use insect repellent, stay indoors and eliminate places where the bug can breed.

Clothing to cover you

A mosquito’s first choice for biting is bare, unprotected skin. So be sure to wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants when you go outside.

You can go one step further and treat your clothing with permethrin, a synthetic insect repellent, or purchase clothes already treated with the chemical. Permethrin spray is available from many retailers that cater to camping or outdoor sports enthusiasts.

Clothing treated with permethrin remains protective after a number of launderings, but be sure to check the product information to learn how long the protection will last. If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully. Do not apply permethrin products directly to your skin; the product is made to treat clothing.

Choosing and using an insect repellent

When used as directed, insect repellent is the best way to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Even children and pregnant women should protect themselves with insect repellent, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) says.

When you’re choosing insect repellent to apply to your skin, look for the active ingredients DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or picaridin (KBR 3023). DEET and picaridin provide the best protection against biting mosquitoes, but DEET is the most common ingredient found in repellents.

Dermatologist Melissa Piliang, M.D., recommends DEET. “Higher concentrations of DEET give you longer-lasting protection if you’re staying out several hours,” she says.

Products with DEET typically offer different formulas that contain 5 percent to 100 percent of the chemical, giving you about 90 minutes to 10 hours of protection. Be sure to follow the directions on the package.

Mosquitoes are most active from dusk till dawn, so Piliang stresses that it’s most important to apply repellent every time you go out during those hours.

In many parts of the country, mosquitoes also bite during the day, so apply it whenever you go outdoors for an extended period. If you sweat or get wet, you may need to re-apply.

Apply insect repellent only to exposed skin and concentrate on your ankles, feet, neck, ears, arms and legs, Piliang says. Do not spray repellent on the skin that’s covered by clothing.

Heavy application isn’t necessary. And don’t spray or pump repellent directly onto your face — spray your hands, then spread the repellent carefully on your face, avoiding your eyes and mouth.

If you also are using sunscreen, apply the sunscreen before applying insect repellent. Wash off the insect repellent once you’re inside for the day, Piliang says.

Insect-free indoors

Easy way to avoid mosquitoes: Stay inside with the air conditioning or in a place with window and door insect screens that can keep mosquitoes outside. If you’re staying in a place without screens or air condition, or if you’re sleeping outdoors, sleep under a mosquito bed net. Mosquito bed nets are a good idea for travelers, the CDC says.

Around the house

Want to hinder mosquitoes from breeding in your backyard? Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so drain any standing water on your property, the CDC advises.

Also, any kind of container can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Empty bird baths, garbage cans, buckets, flowerpots, play equipment and anything else that collects water.

Mosquitoes like garbage cans too. Spray your garbage cans regularly with insecticide and keep the lids on.

Lastly, make sure that the screens on your doors and windows are in good repair and consider turning on the air conditioning to keep the bugs outside.

(A Wellness Update is a magazine devoted to up-to-the minute information on health issues from physicians, major hospitals and clinics, universities and health care agencies across the U.S. Online at


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