Natural Prevention of Insect-Borne Diseases

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) stated in May that insect-borne disease increased from 27,000 in 2004 to 96,000 in 2016 — and that’s only reported cases. These diseases include Lyme disease, West Nile virus and newcomer Heartland virus, which has recently appeared in the U.S.

While using insect repellant containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) can help prevent bites that could be infectious, some people don’t want to repeatedly expose themselves to the chemicals in repellants because of its toxicity, especially when used frequently. A few other strategies can help prevent bites.

Joanne Wu is an integrative and holistic medicine and rehabilitation physician who specializes in wellness. She recommends using citronella, eucalyptus or tea tree oil.

“Add a couple drops to 1 teaspoon of a carrier oil,” she said. “It’s a natural repellent. Consider using astringents like witch hazel mixed with oils to spray.”

Planting lavender around the yard and tossing a sprig of thyme in the fire on a chilly evening can also ward off mosquitoes.

Why do these work?

“It’s about masking your scent so it’s not attractive,” Wu said.

She added that seeking a good quality oil is important for maximum effectiveness.

Kristen MacNeil, owner of Hamburg Essential Oils, adds lemongrass to the list. If one oil doesn’t work well, try another.

“I had used lavender for years, but it stopped being as effective for me,” she said. “Things within your body or diet may change things.”

She also likes lemon eucalyptus, which isn’t a combination of lemon and eucalyptus, but is its own type of oil.

“It’s shown in studies to be as effective as DEET,” MacNeil said. “But it does wear off more than DEET.”

Always well diluted in a carrier oil, try clove, lemongrass, rosemary, cedar, catnip (if you don’t have cats), geranium or mint oils as well. Although some people have success rubbing the above plants on the skin, the essential oils provide a more concentrated source of the properties that repel insects and they’re easier to apply in liquid form.

Don’t forget to use physical barrier strategies such as wearing long sleeves and pants when walking in woods or gardening, she said.

Also, tuck pants into socks and check for ticks before coming indoors.

Light-colored fabrics help make ticks easier to see. Tightly woven material is tougher for the insects to penetrate.

In general, try to avoid areas with high grass and brushing through undergrowth and branches. That’s where insects like to live and wait for hosts.

If you choose a product containing DEET, select one with 15 percent or lower concentration of DEET to minimize exposure while still providing repellant.

Don’t apply repellant indoors to minimize inhalation. Use only as directed on exposed skin.

Use flea and tick prevention measures on pets and check any pets that go outdoors. Ask your veterinarian before using essential oils with pets because cats and dogs can have serious reactions to them.

Eliminate sources of standing water, which is where mosquitoes like to lay eggs. Keep your yard mowed and bushes trimmed.

Mosquitoes aren’t as active mid-morning through early evening, so plan to perform yard work or engage in outdoor activities during those times.

Check your window screens and around window air conditioners for holes and gaps.