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Don't be a mosquito magnet

A man and boy hiking through the woods.

May 29, 2021—Mosquitoes can do more than leave you with an itchy bite. Some can spread disease-causing viruses that can make you sick, sometimes seriously.

Health experts want people to be aware of this—so they know how best to protect themselves and their families.

Understanding the risk

In the continental U.S, the most common mosquito-borne disease is West Nile virus.

Often, West Nile doesn't cause noticeable problems. But in about 1 in 5 cases, people have mild flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. In roughly 1 out of 150 cases, the virus can enter the nervous system and be life-threatening, causing illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis.

5 ways to fight the bite

Of course, your best defense against being infected by a mosquito is to avoid being bitten.

Here's what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health advise to help protect you and your family:

1. Repel the little buggers. Use an insect repellent registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some approved active ingredients include DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol (PMD).

To help find what might be best for you, try the EPA's search tool for repellents. If you're using sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first, then the repellent. Be sure to use any repellent as directed.

2. Take extra care with children. For kids younger than 3 years old, don't use products with oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD. Need to apply insect repellent to a little one’s face? Spray it on your hands first and then apply it to a child's face. Avoid the child's eyes and hands.

3. Cover up. Wear long sleeves, pants and socks outdoors whenever possible. Because mosquitoes can bite through thin fabric, spray lightweight clothes with an insect repellent.

4. Shut them out. Install or fix window or door screens at home or use air conditioning with closed windows.

5. Banish breeding grounds. Mosquitoes lay eggs in or near water. Around your home and yard, get rid of any standing water. Regularly check and empty flower pots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet dishes and birdbaths.

Finally: If you're traveling beyond the continental U.S., find out if there's a risk of mosquito-borne diseases—and if there's a vaccine or medicine that may help protect you.

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