Mosquito Control for Safe Backyard Play
Mosquitos are a miserable fact of life. Although nothing feels better than scratching the everlovin’ itch out of a mosquito bite, it’s always best to try to avoid getting blood-sucked by these thirsty little disease vectors. Here’s what you need to know about mosquitos in the back yard and how to protect your kids from them.
America’s Mosquitos and How They Can Make You Sick
There are over 3,000 species of mosquitos in the world, but only 176 species are currently recognized in the U.S. Some of these species are known to carry viruses that can infect humans. The viruses most commonly found in the United States include:
Chikungunya. The Asian Tiger Mosquito and the Yellow Fever Mosquito caused nearly 500 cases of this painful—but rarely fatal—virus in 35 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands in 2014.
Dengue. Although rarely fatal, dengue’s painful symptoms include joint, muscle, and bone pain. Again, the Asian Tiger and Yellow Fever Mosquitos are responsible for this disease, which has become more common in the U.S. over the past two decades.
Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This is a rare virus, with only a handful of cases reported in the U.S. each year, but it’s a serious and potentially fatal illness. Currently, EEE is found primarily in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states near freshwater hardwood swamplands.
St. Louis encephalitis (SLE). Another rare virus, with around seven cases reported each year, SLE outbreaks are most common in eastern and central states. This virus causes brain inflammation, most commonly in older adults.
LaCrosse encephalitis (LAC). Around 90 cases of LAC occur in states east of the Mississippi, particularly in Appalachia. This virus is transmitted by the tree-hole mosquito and has caused fatalities in children under the age of 16.
West Nile virus (WNV). Currently, 65 mosquito species in the U.S. have tested positive for West Nile virus. Arizona and New Mexico had the first reported human cases of WNV in the U.S. in 2004. As of 2014, 36,437 cases of WNV had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control, about four percent of which were fatal.
Zika virus. Zika became a household word after the 2016 outbreak of this devastating disease in Miami-Dade County in Florida. The CDC removed Miami-Dade County’s cautionary designation on June 2, 2017, meaning the problem has sufficiently abated that there are no longer travel recommendations for the area, although sporadic cases may still occur.
Now, if you're like me, after reading all this, you will proceed to lie awake worrying about mosquito bites on top of everything else that keeps you up at night. Don’t. All of these viruses are relatively rare, and it’s unlikely that a mosquito is going to make your kid sick. But taking the right precautions is really important for ensuring your beloveds stay as safe as possible from mosquitos while engaged in their backyard shenanigans.
A Quick Note About Heartworm in Dogs
It’s not just the kids you need to worry about when it comes to mosquito bites. Dogs are susceptible to Dirofilaria immitis, or dog heartworm, which is transmitted by some species of mosquito. Left untreated, heartworm can cause lasting damage to your dog’s organs and arteries. Effective heartworm prevention requires staying on a strict medication schedule. Oral and topical products should be given every month, and injectable medications should be given every six months. Our vet recommends—and we use—Heartgard.
How to Reduce Mosquitos in the Back Yard Naturally
There are a number of things you can do to keep mosquitos out of your back yard without dousing it in toxic chemicals that can harm your children's—and your pets’—health.
- Remove anything from your yard that collects water, like unused flower pots or tires. Mosquitos like to lay their eggs in containers with standing water in them, and it doesn’t take much—a planter saucer with just a half-inch of standing water or a tarp with a pooled little water can be a prolific breeding ground for skeeters.
- After it rains, empty the water from the fire pit and other places rainwater collects.
- Change the water in the bird bath at least every week.
- Empty the kiddie pool and refill it a couple of times a week.
- Keep your gutters clean so water can drain out of them.
- Eliminate brush piles, which can attract mosquitos and promote breeding.
- If you have a fish pond, rain barrel, a ditch, or other un-drainable feature in your yard, use a “mosquito dunk” to kill the larvae without harming other animals or humans. Here’s a 20-pack of mosquito dunks on Amazon for about $20, or you can get them at your local home improvement center.
- Promote a healthy bat population on your property. Bats are friendly and useful for pest control: A single bat can eat up to 600 mosquitos in an hour. Don’t worry: The only three blood-sucking bat species live in Central and South America, and the chances of getting rabies from a bat is very slim. According to Bat Conservation International, fewer than 10 people have contracted rabies from a North American bat in the past 50 years.
How to Protect Your Children and Pets if You Use Pesticides
In places where mosquitos are a real problem and outbreaks of mosquito-transmitted diseases commonly occur, you may need to treat the back yard with pesticides to protect your family and pets. Oregon State University’s National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) stresses that all pesticides have some level of toxicity and pose some risk to infants and children, who are more sensitive than adults to their effects. The NPIC offers these tips for minimizing the risk to infants and children when you use pesticides in your yard:
- Always follow the directions on the label, and follow all of the recommended safety precautions.
- Use the least toxic pesticide available. The NPIC says you can identify these by the word “CAUTION” on the label rather than the words “WARNING” and ‘DANGER,” which indicate highly toxic chemicals.
- Keep children and pets away while the yard is being treated and until the sprayed areas are dry.
- For a few days after treatment, make sure your kids wear shoes, and don’t let their skin come into direct contact with the grass that’s been sprayed.
- Make sure your children wash their hands thoroughly before eating after playing in the yard.
- Wipe your four-legged baby's paws with a damp cloth after he's been in sprayed areas.
- Never, ever use illegal pesticides.
Mosquito Repellent is Essential
The Centers for Disease Control stresses that wearing mosquito repellent while you’re outside is essential for protection against mosquito bites. This is especially true in the evenings and at night, when mosquito populations proliferate.
But not all mosquito repellents are created equal, and it can be hard to know what products are both effective and safe for your children. It’s frustrating to throw money at expensive repellents, only to wake up covered in bites anyway. To help you choose the right mosquito repellent, read my article, “Mosquito Repellents: What’s In Them, and Are They Safe for Your Kids?” It explains each of the five EPA-approved ingredients used in repellents and whether they're safe to use on children.
Reducing your back yard’s mosquito population and using an effective insect repellent will help protect your kids against mosquito-transmitted illnesses, and it’ll keep those red, itchy welts to a bare minimum. If you have any tips to add about mosquito control for the back yard, tell us in the comments!