As the panic machine replaces SARS with West Nile fever, health officials are pumping only one pesticide solution: the all-chemical DEET. But don't fall into the toxin trap - there are effective and earth-friendly ways to keep skeeter-free.
There is a natural alternative out there rivalling DEET - Bite Blocker (or Blocker) with 2 per cent soybean oil. Health Canada says tests prove the product offers one to three and a half hours of protection per application. Sold in the U.S. and soon to be on Canadian shelves.
CITRONELLA Nature's bug dope. Health Canada says registered citronella products have been found to provide 30 minutes to two hours of protection. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEMJ) reported that products with 10 per cent citronella oil lasted from seven to 60 minutes. Note: The lower the concentration of citronella the more often you should re-oil.
LAVENDER Health Canada says Flyscreen, a product containing 6 per cent lavender oil, lasts as long as citronella: 30 minutes.
CATNIP Preliminary studies found nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip oil, to be 10 times more effective than DEET. Currently being tested against West Nile mosquitoes.
LEMON EUCALYPTUS A product made with a 30 per cent extract, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent fended off mosquitoes for 60 to 220 minutes, according to a preliminary report in the NEMJ. It is not available in Canada.
Note: Using undiluted essential oils is not recommended.
These pricey gadgets run on propane and are said to attract mozzies by mimicking the emanations of a large mammal, using CO2, octenol (an attractant) and heat. Health Canada has yet to test them, but the Mosquito Magnet brand has racked up testimonials from the U.S. Army, department of agriculture and Center for Disease Control.
Greens that may help divert mosquitoes from your yard: scented geraniums lemon thyme lemon balm citronella grass tomatoes lavender sweet basil marigolds
Note: Tall grass, weeds, shrubs and vines actually make cozy homes for the persistent pests.
Adding a few small goldfish, guppies and mosquito fish to backyard ponds and rain barrels can keep mosquito larvae in check. Hanging bird and bat houses will invite mosquito predators to dinner.
Coils and candles
Don't count on these devices. They only work sporadically (when there's very little wind and only if that breeze is pointing your way). Many outdoor coils and candles also burn chemicals like DEET and other insecticides. One study found citronella candles reduced bites by 42 per cent, plain candles by 23 per cent, for people sitting right by them.
These so-called "bug deterrents" are a bust:
Sonic and ultrasonic repellers. Maybe mosquitoes just can't hear the fake bat noises.
Bug zappers. More likely to fry moths than mosquitoes.
Wristbands. Whether they're drenched in citronella or DEET, these gizmos are only effective within a 4-centimetre range.
UNPROVEN HOME REMEDIES
Many homesteads swear their pantries are stocked with solutions: Bounce fabric softener Vick's Vapour Rub pure vanilla oil B-1 (thiamine) 100mg/day garlic brewer's yeast Skin-S0-Soft bath oil. Avoid bananas.
DEET may be the new media and government darling, but there's a reason why Health Canada is phasing out the sale of products with over 30 per cent of the chemical by 2004. Some of DEET's more serious shortcomings:
Frequent, prolonged use can cause memory loss, headaches, tremors, joint pain, shortness of breath and loss of muscle control.
More dangerous for children, in rare cases causing seizures, coma and death.
Interacts with medications like antihistamines and other chemicals, making it dangerous at lower dosages.
Campers beware: using DEET for several days without washing may lead to serious reactions.
PEST CONTROL GONE AWRY
Effects of Toronto's larvicide of choice (methroprene) on wildlife: toxic to frogs, toads, salamanders and freshwater invertebrates.
Effects of human overexposure to Toronto's planned spray (malathion) for adult mosquitoes: dizziness, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, breathing problems, and eye, skin, nose and throat irritation.
Effects of malathion on wildlife: highly toxic to insects (including beneficial insects like bees) and fish.
Success rate of malathion spray under favourable conditions : 50-80 per cent
Time in hours that spraying may reduce mosquitoes: 12-36.