It only takes a few minutes outdoors, particularly at dusk, to develop a deep-rooted disdain for mosquitoes. And as if buzzing incessantly near your ear and feasting on your exposed arms and legs aren’t enough, mosquitoes can transmit a number of infectious diseases, a fact that elevates the insects from a nuisance to an outright health risk.
The West Nile virus, by far the most common mosquito-borne illness in the U.S., afflicts thousands of people across the country each year. It has been responsible for more than 2,000 deaths since 1999.
Laura Goodman, a veterinarian and senior research associate in Cornell University’s department of population medicine and diagnostic sciences, specializes in infectious diseases spread by ticks, which also transmit infectious diseases. But they’re not her main concern on a personal level.
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1. Use Your Screens
Maximize fresh air indoors, but introduce a bugproof barrier. Gangloff-Kaufmann advises using fine mesh screens in all open windows and doors. This allows cross-breezes to enter your house, but the screens’ openings are too small for mosquitoes to permeate.
Consider screening in your porch as well. “Screens are simply the best mosquito-control device you can find,” she says. “They were the original form of pest control, and for good reason.” If you already have screens, check the seals around the edges and use a patching kit to repair any tears.
2. Get Rid of Standing Water
“Mosquitoes reproduce in water,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says, “and they can do it in even the small amount of water that would fit in a bottle cap.”
That means it’s imperative to empty outdoor water toys and remove wheelbarrows and other outdoor gear that can catch water after a rainfall. Keep your gutters and drain lines clear of debris—clogged leaves and branches can cause water to pool. In a mere four days, eggs laid in water mature into nymphs. So if it rains on a Monday, don’t wait until the weekend to get rid of standing water. By then it’ll be too late.
3. Keep Your Yard Under Control
Use a lawn mower, a string trimmer, or even a chain saw to cut back high grass, brush, and tree limbs. “Mosquitoes favor cooler spots in the shade,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says.
By minimizing any tall grass or limbs that cast shadows on your yard, you make the habitat immediately surrounding your home much less appealing to mosquitoes. Letting more sun in also helps dry up any wet spots. If your lawn has uneven terrain or divots, fill them with topsoil and plant grass seed. Left alone, any dips will collect water during each rainfall and provide a potential breeding ground.
4. Use Fans Even Outdoors
CR has tested three methods for controlling mosquito activity in a large area: citronella candles, an oscillating pedestal fan, and a battery-powered area diffuser that emitted geraniol, a natural repellent derived from plants. We found that the fan was far more effective than citronella candles or the geraniol diffuser.
In fact, our tests showed that the fan reduced mosquito landings by 45 to 65 percent for folks sitting nearby. “There’s a reason you see porch fans in mosquito-rich areas like the tropics,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says.
She notes that while a fan makes it more difficult for mosquitoes to fly against the steady breeze, it also helps disperse carbon dioxide emitted by humans. That secondary benefit’s a good one because mosquitoes detect the compound in the air we exhale, which guides them when they’re looking to feed.
5. Keep Covered and Use Repellent
As much as the above steps will help cut down on mosquitoes in your own yard, controlling the greater population requires targeted community efforts. “Even if you follow the rules, your neighbor’s yard might be a breeding ground,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says.
To guard against bites, wear long sleeves, use an effective insect repellent, such as Total Home Woodland Scent Insect Repellent from CVS, $7, and avoid going outside at prime feeding times—dawn and dusk for the Northern house mosquito, the most common variety in most of the U.S. These safeguards can minimize your exposure, cutting your risk of mosquito-transmitted illness so that you can enjoy the outdoors with more peace of mind.
The Lowdown on Insect Repellents
Bug bites are not only annoying, but they can also transmit diseases. On the ‘Consumer 101′ TV show, host Jack Rico goes inside Consumer Reports’ labs to find out how CR tests insect repellents to make sure you are getting the most protection.