Keep the Bugs Away Naturally
The search for an effective bug spray is so important, especially considering the increasing prevalence of tick borne Lyme's disease and all the media surrounding mosquito borne diseases such as West Nile, dengue and now Zika. And even more difficult- is to find a bug repellant that doesn't include DEET and hopefully doesn't smell disgusting.
Let's Start with the Basics- Why are Bugs so Bad
Dengue- dengue is a leading cause of death in the tropics and subtropics. It effects nearly 400 million people every year. Although there have been some outbreaks in Florida and Hawaii, dengue rarely occurs in the US- but widely talked about when traveling. Symptoms include a high fever and at least 2 of the following: sever headaches, eye pain, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, joint pain and low white cell counts. Since dengue can be fatal, if you suspect infection, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Zika- right now, especially with the Olympics on, Zika feels like it is the topic of most conversations. Zika is related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile. It is contracted by mosquitos that are active in the daytime. Up until 2015, Zika was most prevalent in equatorial Asia and Africa, but since then has become more prevalent in the Americas. It often causes no symptoms or mild dengue-like symptoms. Zika can also be passed from mother to fetus and has been linked to resulting in birth defects. Beyond this, more research is being done as to the effects and impacts of Zika, since they are still largely unknown. Currently no medications or vaccinations exist for treatment.
West Nile- is a potentially fatal virus that is hard to eradicate because it also affects birds, which then bring the virus to new areas. It has been reported in all 48 continental states. Only 1 in 5 people experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and joint pain. There has been report (fewer than 1%) that some patients suffer seizures, coma, paralysis or neurological symptoms.
Obviously bug repellent is an important part of keeping mosquitoes away, but other ways include, covering exposed skin with clothing in the evenings or when in buggy areas, try to eliminate breeding grounds such as standing water including bird baths, clogged gutters, ponds, etc.(something as small as a cup with water in it is enough to create a cozy breeding ground, yuk!)
Lyme Disease- now the most common illness transmitted by ticks- approximately 300,000 people are infected each year in the US, Infection results in a distinct bulls-eye rash (in about 50% of cases), fever, headache and muscle pain. If Lyme goes untreated, it can lead to joint pain and neurological symptoms. Lyme is treatable, but best caught early. If you see a bulls-eye rash contact your doctor immediately. People who take a 2 to 4 week course of antibiotics usually recover completely. Much effort is going into further researching Lyme Disease.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever- Despite its name, more that 60% of cases occur in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. Symptoms include fever, headache, stomach pain and vomiting. Sometimes a spot like rash appears after a few days. If treated immediately, with antibiotics, a full recovery is common. But left untreated, the illness is fatal.
Babesiosis- spread by the same deer ticks that can cause Lyme disease, Babesiosis, is much more serious- sometimes even compared to malaria. Symptoms include drenching sweats, fatigue and extreme chills. The disease is caused by microscopic parasites that infect and destroy red blood cells. Babesiosis is most common in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Full recovery is likely with a quick antibiotic treatment, however it can be fatal if not identified quickly or for those with compromised immune systems.
Scary, huh? Well there are ways to protect yourself. To reduce your exposure or to identify a tick quickly, you should wear bug REPELLANT! Also, to defend against the pesky buggers wear white when walking (easier to spot ticks on light clothing), avoid edges of paths & trails when walking, wear a hat, wear long socks, spray your clothes (you can even buy bug repellant clothing), check your whole body when coming inside, take a scrubbing shower (water isn't enough, you need to scrub). Then if you do find a tick, carefully remove with a pair of tweezers.
So are you motivated now to find a good bug repellant? I have done quite a bit of research and will share it below. To begin with, I will say that generally, I am the best mosquito repellant in the around for everyone else in the room- If there is a mosquito in a 1 mile radius, you can bet it will find me, so the recommendations provided here are truly put to the test!
I avoid DEET at all costs for my family. The chemical is a poison that even the EPA has stated isn't safe on your skin for more that a few hours and should not be breathed nor be sprayed near faces or hands (which invariable touch your face or food). There are many natural ingredients equally effective, so I see no sense in poisoning myself or my family- but ultimately the choice to use DEET or not is yours.
My Top 3 choices for Natural Bug Repellants
1. Natrapel- repels ticks and biting insects for up to 8-12 hours. This spray is extremely effective and uses Picardin as its active ingredient. It does have a "bug sprayish" smell, but not as bad as many, and well worth the incredible performance. Natrapel is widely available including LL Bean, Amazon, Walgreens, etc. I comes in a continuous spray bottle or in a convenient, packable smaller pump spray bottle. I carry this with me at all times.
2. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent- also does a good job repelling biting insects, for up to about 6 hours, but doesn't do as great a job with ticks. Lemon Eucalyptus is actually the only natural ingredient that is Center of Disease Control recommended. I love the fresh scent, but it is oil based so it can leave you a bit greasy. Not good if you need to sit on leather seats, but great for a backyard cookout. Repel is also widely available including Target.
3. Buzz Away Extreme- this peppermint- scented spay wards off mosquitos, ticks and black flies. It comes in a pump spray bottle and in convenient wipes. Buzz is definitely the most expensive of my 3 recommendations, but won't break the bank, and kids like the smell. I didn't personally find it as effective for mosquitos when testing, but my family did. Find Buzz Away on Amazon and at Whole Foods.
I hope that this helps you filter through some of the huge amounts of options available, the most important thing is to try to find what works for you and then use it consistently.