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Quit Bugging Me! West Nile Warnings + The Best Natural Insect Repellents

It has already been a historic year for West Nile Virus, and unfortunately we’re just getting started.

Mosquitos carry the highest amounts of West Nile virus in early fall, with many cases of the virus cropping up in humans between late August and early September.

The Toll:

As of August 29, there were 1,590 cases of West Nile virus reported in the United States, including 66 deaths. These tolls are the highest reported at this point in the year since the mosquito-borne disease was first detected in the country, in 1999!

Although the virus has been detected in all 48 contiguous states, over 70 percent of human cases have been reported in just six states: Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan.

The Cause:

Public health experts and entomologists believe this year’s record high temperatures are at least partially to blame for West Nile outbreaks. Tony Goldberg, professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison explained: “Higher temperatures foster faster reproduction of both the mosquito and the virus.”

Higher temperatures also increase mosquito activity, making them more likely to be flying around, especially at night.

Experts believe this year’s cycle of droughts and downpours is also a contributing factor. Goldberg also explained: “When heavy spring rains are followed by summer dry spells, as has been the case in much of the United States this year, the breeding pools remain for weeks or months…and the mosquito population explodes.”

Goldberg and other scientists hypothesize that such climate extremes (and overall climate change) will lead to more years with significant West Nile virus outbreaks in the future.

Protecting Yourself:

Obviously, the best way to protect yourself against West Nile virus is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. The 3 main strategies for avoiding bites include:

  1. Avoid standing water. Drain pools of standing water in your yard (e.g. trash bins and plant saucers), and avoid larger bodies of standing water, especially when mosquitos are most active (dawn and dusk).
  2. Cover up. Wear long sleeves and pants, especially if you’re outside around dawn or dusk, are spending time near standing water, or are at high risk for West Nile virus complications.
  3. Wear an insect repellent. An insect repellent is often the most practical option for staving off mosquitos, especially in the heat of summer.

Unfortunately, many mainstream repellents are full of nasty chemicals like DEET. DEET has been linked to a number of brain and behavioral deficits, including memory loss, headache, weakness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors and shortness of breath, according to Duke University researcher Mohamed Abou-Donia, Ph.D.

Abou-Donia warns: “The take home message is to be safe and cautious when using insecticides. Never use insect repellents on infants, and be wary of using them on children in general.”

Natural Insect Repellants:

Fortunately, there are now plenty of natural (and effective) insect repellants on the market! Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent is a natural blend of 8 bug-fighting oils, including rosemary, citronella, and lemongrass. This formula is safe for children and pets, and is never tested on animals!
  2. Jason Quit Bugging Me is free of DEET, PABA, and parabens, and the soothing formula even provides relief from previous bites!
  3. Quantum Buzz Away is touted as the longest-lasting natural insect repellent, providing up to 4 hours of protection! The natural, non-greasy formula is great for families.
  4. All Terrain Herbal Armor comes in several all-natural, DEET-free varieties, including a lotion, a spray, and formulas especially for kids.
  5. Loving Naturals Insect Repellant is 100% natural, quick-drying, DEET-free, organic, and safe for kids! It comes in a convenient, 4 oz. spray bottle.

Image Credit: Travis S./Flickr