Healthy Communities

By Virgina Zombek

(Wampsville, NY – July 2012) A warm, dry summer has protected our area from the normal number of mosquitoes we usually see at this time of year. Although the number of mosquitoes is lower than usual, residents must stay vigilant and continue to take necessary steps, such as the use of insect repellents, to protect themselves from mosquito borne diseases, such as West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Very rarely do people who become infected with WNv develop a life-threatening illness that includes inflammation of the brain. More than likely, you may not experience any signs or symptoms from WNv or you may experience only minor ones, such as fever and mild headache. West Nile virus has been found in sample batches, or “pools,” of mosquitoes tested from Oswego and Onondaga counties this summer, but no evidence of WNv has yet been found in Madison County.

Horses are most at risk for the EEE illness, which almost always proves fatal to the animal. If contracted by humans, EEE can produce symptoms ranging from mild flu-like illness to inflammation of the brain, even coma and death in about a third of human cases.

Protection from mosquito bites can take several forms, from making sure your window and door screens are in good working order, to removing standing water from small and large receptacles around the house that can serve as incubation pools for mosquitoes. When it comes to avoiding their bites, however, dressing to repel mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and long pants and using insect repellents are two of the most protective actions to take.

For the safe and effective use of insect repellents and pesticide products, always read the product label before using the product.

* Do you have any idea how long the repellent is effective? Check the label.

* How long has the product been in your home? Check the label.

* Do you know that you should not spray your child with repellent if they can breathe in the spray or get it in their eyes? Check the label.

* Did you know that oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under the age of three? It’s on the label.

Using just enough of the right repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing is all that is needed to use insect repellents safely. How do you know what is the right repellent for the right situation? Do you really have to read every label? There is good news: A search tool is available at

The Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool can help you choose the repellent product that is right for you and your family. Keep in mind the insect you need protection from and the amount of time you plan to be outdoors. The search tool asks you to specify the insect, protection time, active ingredient or other product-specific information.

In general, higher concentrations of active ingredients provide longer duration of protection, but concentrations higher than 50 percent do not offer a marked increase in protection time. Studies have also shown that using a repellent concentration of more than 30 percent DEET adds no additional protection from insect or tick bites.

Permethrin is an EPA-approved pesticide product for use on clothing, camping gear, shoes and bed nets. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes and other arthropods and retains this effect after repeated laundering. For reapplication, follow the directions on the label. Permethrin-based products are available at camping retailers and online.

More information on protecting yourself and your family from mosquito-borne viruses is available at Visit the health topics page under ‘Mosquitoes,’ or call the Madison County Health Department at 366-2361.

Virginia Zombek is a public health educator specializing in environmental health issues with the Madison County Department of Health.

By martha

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