Mosquito strategy

After the floods in South Texas, we are well aware of the mosquitos!  Mosquitoes detect the carbon dioxide we generate when we exhale. That is how they find us to get their blood meal. Since we can’t stop exhaling, we use strategies to confuse their sensor system or overwhelm the carbon dioxide detection to repel them.

Besides the bothersome itch and swelling of mosquito bites, mosquitos in the US can transmit West Nile Virus, and less commonly, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue fever, and other viral infections. There were 379 cases of West Nile Virus in Texas last year, and the first case has already been reported this year. Most people infected with West Nile Virus will experience no symptoms. About 20% of people will have fever, weakness, nausea and vomiting. Severe symptoms occur in about 1% of people resulting in fever and neurologic symptoms including weakness, neck stiffness, and disorientation resulting from brain infection. So, there is good reason to prevent mosquito bites!

We are using a multi-pronged strategy for mosquito control at our house.  1) Bug repellent.  The most effective ‘clinically proven’ and EPA-approved repellents include DEET (diethyltoluamide–at least 20%), and three other synthetic chemicals: picaridin (at least 20%), oil of lemon eucalyptus (at least 30%), and I3535. DEET has long been considered the most effective repellent, but Consumers Reports(R) did some testing and found that the picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus products performed better than DEET.  DEET can be neurotoxic if absorbed, so you can’t use it on the hands and face. Also, using more than 35% DEET is not recommended and only increases the potential for toxicity.  All of these should be used sparingly in children, and some cannot be used on infants or children under 3 years old.  Check the label.  Also, these synthetic repellents should not be used around food and hands should be washed after application.

Plant oils are considered “minimum risk” so commercial plant oil product claims are not evaluated by the EPA.  The commercial plant oil repellents did not last more than an hour in the Consumer Reports tests, but we don’t know all of the products that were tested, and what oil combinations were used.

Permethrin, a synthetic chemical similar to the pyrethrum produced by chrysanthemums, can be sprayed on clothes, tents and gear, and is effective for several washings.  It is not for use on skin. You can find these products at sporting goods stores and some drug stores. There are various brand names so you will need to read the labels to look for ingredients.

When I was in Africa for a photo safari two years ago, I used DEET for protection from mosquito bites. The mosquitos there carry the type of malaria that can kill people, so the benefit was worth the potential toxicity. I wish I had known about essential oils then so I could have put something natural on my face and hands!

At our recent “Make and Take” essential oils class we made some outdoor spray that I am able to use on my face and hands (about the only parts exposed when I’m in our swimming pool)!  It has made our time outside much more pleasant. It may need to be reapplied periodically.

In a 2 oz brown spray bottle add:

pinch salt

10 drops Purification

10 drops Eucalyptus

5 drops Lemongrass

5 drops Peppermint

5 drops Thieves

1 oz natural witch hazel

0.5 oz distilled water or carrier oil (sweet almond oil, frac coconut oil, other)

If you only have a limited number of oils, you can use

pinch salt

10 drops Purification

10 drops Lavender (avoid if you have bees)

5 drops Peppermint

1 oz natural witch hazel

0.5 oz distilled water or carrier oil

OR

pinch salt

10 drops Purification

10 drops Thieves

1 oz natural witch hazel

0.5 oz distilled water or carrier oil

2) We burn a stick of good quality incense (we get from Amazon). Recently we are using lavender or sandalwood. The smoke from the incense confuses the mosquito’s CO2 detection system. You can also use a candle (especially citronella) but it generates less smoke than incense.  These are only supplementary deterrents and likely will not work alone.

3) Empty all of your standing water–plant saucers, buckets, stagnant water collections in yard because these are breeding grounds for mosquitos. Most types of mosquitos in our area don’t travel far for their daily blood meal, so clearing the standing water in your yard can make a difference.

4) When you can, wear long sleeves and long pants when outside.

Another strategy is to keep a rotating fan near, and “blow away” the mosquitos.  We just visited with our relatives who are big into fishing and they gave great reviews of  Thermacell(R). It is a small portable device fueled by a butane cartridge that heats and diffuses allethrin, a synthetic version of the repellent in chrysanthemums.  It is said to produce a 15 X 15 mosquito-free zone.  Sounds like it could be another tool in the toolbox for mosquito strategy.

We are due for some more rain in South Texas. We could use your prayers for those families suffering losses and devastation in the floods.  God bless.

References

http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/index.html

http://www.mosquito.org/about-amca

http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/mosquitoes/index.html

http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/faq/repellent.html

How to win the battle of the bugs.  Consumer Reports July 2015;80:34-37.

http://www.thermacell.com/mosquito-repellent/why-thermacell

 

Lavender – the Swiss Army Knife

 

Since I was introduced to the world of essential oils six months ago, I’ve been impressed with the flexibility, usability, and effectiveness of lavender.  Previously, I thought it was good for relaxing, especially in the bathtub.  But since joining the EO world, I’ve learned it can do so much more than that.  The word lavender comes from the Latin word “lavare” (to wash).  It is great in a bath–use lavender-infused Epsom salts so that the oil distributes throughout the water. The well-known relaxing effects can lead to decreased blood pressure and sleep quality.  It can also be used on burns, scrapes, sunburn, acne, or cold sores.  A famous story about the use of lavender on burns is about Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist in the early 20th century.  He sustained burns on his hands during a laboratory explosion. The hands quickly developed what he described as gas gangrene, an almost universally fatal infection at the time.  He applied lavender oil, and healing began the next day.  Gattefosse coined the term aromatherapie and wrote the first book with that title in 1937.

Studies as well as anecdotal experience have shown that massaging lavender on the abdomen can relieve menstrual discomfort and cramping.  I use lavender in combination with lemon and peppermint diluted in coconut oil as carrier for relief from allergies and nasal congestion.  This “allergy bomb” can be applied to the lower part of the back of the neck and over sinuses (be careful with the peppermint–make sure it is diluted enough if you get close to the eyes, and do not get oils in your eyes!).  I also dab a cotton swab in the mixture and swirl in each nostril.  I have never breathed more clearly!  I have heard many times from colleagues, and continue to hear, this combination is effective for relief of allergy symptoms.  Just today, a friend told me that she previously relied on antihistamines almost daily, and has not used any since using essential oils.

Scientific studies about essential oils’ effects on clinical problems are relatively rare, but precious when we find them. This week, I came across a study done in an animal model showing that inhalation of lavender essential oil suppresses allergic airway inflammation.  The authors determined this by showing lower lung resistance and less peribronchial inflammatory cells in the group that inhaled lavender vs.  the control group.  While it is an animal model study, it gives credence to our anecdotes and such studies may eventually lead the way to more essential oil clinical trials in humans.

In any case, lavender does indeed seem to be the Swiss army knife of essential oils and if I was stranded on a desert island and could only have one essential oil, I think it would be lavender!

Juno MS et al. Effects of aroma massage on home blood pressure, ambulatory blood pressure, and sleep quality in middle-aged women with hypertension. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;2013:403251

Ueno-lio T et al. Lavender essential oil inhalation suppresses allergic airway inflammation and mucous cell hyperplasia in a murine model of asthma. Life Sciences 2014;108:109-115

Dehkordi AR et al. Effect of lavender inhalation on the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea and the amount of menstrual bleeding: A randomized clinical trial.  Complementary Therapies in Med 2014;22:212-219

http://roberttisserand.com/2011/04/gattefosses-burn/