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North Hills Monthly

Don’t Let Summer Pests Spoil Your Time Outdoors

Jun 29, 2020 12:05PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Photo courtesy Eisler Landscapes

After a long spring of being cooped up indoors due to coronavirus, western Pennsylvania has entered the green phase just in time for summer. Getting outdoors is going to be extra sweet for most folks but keep in mind that summer pests are happy that you’re back outside, too.

Common warm weather pests in the region include mosquitoes, flies, deer ticks and stinging insects like wasps and hornets.

Stopping the Swarm

“Standing water is the number one way to attract mosquitoes; areas that are super-saturated can generate mosquito larvae,” said Eric French, president of Eisler Landscapes in Prospect.

A simple fix is to make sure that gutters are cleaned out and that you remove debris that could have standing water in it, like old tires. “If you have an abandoned pond, that is going to be full of mosquitoes,” he added.

To get rid of mosquitoes in standing water, French recommended a product called Mosquito Dunk, a natural insecticide that kills larvae but is safe for wildlife. He added that there are no real magic plants to keep pests out of your yard, but some people do swear by installing bird houses and bat houses, which is quite effective for decreasing mosquitoes.

“We don’t really encourage yard sprays; all of those insecticides being dumped in the yard will end up in a stream or in groundwater or in your well. The bottom line is that they’re poison: they kill insects but are still toxic to humans,” said French.

He also does not recommend bug zappers because they kill just as many good bugs as they do bad bugs. Instead, he recommends an ultrasonic pest repellent. 

“Most of it really is just good lawn and yard maintenance, and making sure there are no areas of stagnant water,” he added.

Preventing Bites

Are you one of those people who seem to get bitten more often than others? It could be because of factors beyond your control.

“People with type O blood are more likely to attract insects, specifically mosquitos, than patients with blood types A or B,” said Dr. Charles Mount, a dermatologist with Allegheny Health Network, who added that other secreted chemicals may also make some people more or less susceptible than others. “Other factors also likely play a role, such as genetic factors, body temperature, and sweat chemistry.”

Mosquitoes are most active in the evening and when temperatures are cooler. Other pests, like chiggers, ants, ticks and biting flies, are active during the day, said Dr. Mount.

Consistently applying some sort of repellent is the best protection. “The most tried and true are DEET and permethrin. I typically advise applying no higher than up to 33 percent DEET directly to the skin and either higher strength DEET or permethrin directly to your clothing.

“Apply sunscreen first and allow it to absorb and dry then apply your insect repellant,” he continued. “Be sure to apply high strength DEET or permethrin to clothing several hours or a day in advance to allow it to dry sufficiently prior to wear.”

He also advises that wearers pay special attention to areas such as boots/shoes and the bottom cuffs of pants or wrist cuffs where insects will try to enter clothing. “Tucking in your shirt may help prevent them from entering your midsection,” he added.

If you prefer natural repellents, Dr. Mount said that there are several options on the market, though he cautions that not all of the ingredients have been tested or verified by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to be effective in repelling insects.

“Look for EPA labeling on products to ensure they are as effective as advertised,” he advised. “Also, patients with certain skin sensitivities and allergies (eczema and contact dermatitis) may be sensitive to natural repellants as they are typically concentrated plant, fragrance-based ingredients.

“Make sure to wash off all repellents, artificial and natural, with soap and water when you are back indoors, and inspect your skin for any possible ticks that may have journeyed home with you,” he said.

Despite taking precautions, there’s a chance you will end up with a bite or two this summer. If so, Dr. Mount recommends washing the area with soap and water to prevent a secondary infection, and to relieve itching and swelling, take over-the-counter oral antihistamines.

“Apply an over-the-counter topical hydrocortisone 1 percent steroid ointment, which works better than cream, twice a day to itchy bites until they resolve,” said Dr. Mount, adding that neither topical antihistamine creams nor topical antibiotics are necessary or helpful.

Lavender oils can also relieve the discomfort from bug bites and stings. “If lesions do not resolve within two weeks, see your doctor or dermatologist,” he said.