Untamed Lowcountry

Lowcountry mosquitoes deadlier than sharks? 4 tips you need to know about bug spray

Mosquitoes — along with their fiendish neighbors no-see-ums — can make being outdoors in the Lowcountry unpleasant.

That's not to mention the diseases mosquitoes can transmit via their bites, such as West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis viruses, both of which were recorded in South Carolina in 2017, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The Centers for Disease Control recorded 17 human cases of West Nile virus in South Carolina in 2017. Two of those cases were fatal.

Last year, West Nile cases started popping up in South Carolina in early July.

Across the state line in Georgia, officials reported 47 West Nile cases statewide and 7 deaths, one of which was in Chatham County, in 2017.

Eastern equine encephalitis, which also is spread by mosquitoes, can affect humans, but it is rare for it to do so, according to DHEC. Of the nine cases in South Carolina animals last year, one of those was in Jasper County.

As a comparison for those of you who worry about the dangers of sharks in our coastal waters, South Carolina hasn't seen a single fatal shark attack in 58 years.

Here are a few tips to follow when fighting off mosquitoes this summer:

Read the label and check for the right ingredients.

DHEC recommended looking for one of these ingredients when choosing insect repellent:

  • DEET: Products containing DEET include Cutter, OFF! and Skintastic, among others.
  • Picaridin: Products containing picaridin include Cutter Advanced and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus.

  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD: Repel contains OLE. (This is not the same as lemon or eucalyptus essential oil, DHEC says.)

  • IR3535: Products containing IR3535 include Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.

Consumer Reports tested repellents and recommends in a June report that consumers consider the active ingredient, the concentration and the form.

There's no need to use a product with more than 30 percent DEET, the Consumer Reports experts said, and picaridin spray worked better than lotion or wipes.

The magazine advised being wary of natural products that generally don't work as promised.

Be careful when using bug spray on children.

Here's what the American Academy of Pediatrics said about insect repellent and children:

  • Use just enough repellent to cover clothing and exposed skin. Using more doesn’t make the repellent more effective.

  • Don't use any insect repellent on infants less than 2 months old. The Environmental Protection Agency said oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.

  • Adults should spray insect repellent onto their own hands and then apply to a child’s face. Don't spray children's hands, because they are likely to touch their eyes or mouth.

  • Wash with soap and water to remove any repellent when children return indoors.

  • Read the label and follow all precautions.

Applying sunscreen, too? Stick to these rules.

Sunscreen should be used before using insect repellent, according to the CDC's Yellow Book of travel advice, which cautioned that DEET may decrease the SPF of a sunscreen by one-third.

In turn, the Yellow Book says, sunscreen may increase the skin's absorption of DEET.

Experts do not recommend using products that are a sunscreen plus insect repellent combo, because sunscreen needs to be applied more often than insect repellent.

Remember, how you apply bug spray matters.

The EPA offered these insect repellent guidelines:

  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin and clothing.
  • Do not use under clothing.

  • Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.

  • Avoid breathing a spray product. Do not use it near food.

  • Do not use any product on pets or other animals unless the label clearly states it is for animals.