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Most organic mosquito spray doesn’t cut it

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It’s that time of year. You know, that time where you can’t walk outside for three seconds without getting swarmed by blood- thirsty mosquitoes and your kids’ legs start to resemble chicken pox permanence.

With the plague of biting insects among us in muggy Florida, it brings up an important question. Do I cover myself and my family with harsh chemicals or do I risk getting a) bit to all hell and b) contracting some pretty nasty viruses that are now known to come with mosquito bites?

Not only is the West Nile Virus a thing, there’s now also Chikungunya, Powassan and Lyme disease. The first of these ailments comes with pain and swelling, fever and headaches and rashes. There is no cure and the symptoms can last up to months. Chikungunya is now enough of a threat, scientists have developed a way to test for it in mosquitoes in an hour instead of days.

Not to scare the crap out of anyone, but Powassan is even nastier. It too has no specific cure or prevention mechanism. It can cause swelling around the brain and meningitis and often requires hospitalization with respiratory assistance.

Lyme Disease comes with some pretty nasty symptoms too, but it can be treated with antibiotics quickly. Both Powassan and Lyme are caused by tick bites, not mosquitoes.

In any case, some brave souls decided to subject themselves to hundreds of mosquito and tick bites so Consumer Reports could figure out which bug spray really works to keep those biting insects from sucking your blood.

One of the most commonly purchased insect repellents contains the chemical DEET. Consumer Reports warns against using those types of sprays and lotions if they contain more than 30 percent of the chemical. According to Consumer Reports, it can cause rashes, disorientation and even seizures.

And there are growing concerns over the use of any harsh chemical on our bodies. More and more people are turning to organic solutions.

With that in mind, Consumer Reports tested alternative insect repellents including natural ingredients — some of which you may even find in your own kitchen like rosemary and lemongrass.

According to ABC Action News, the report found that most of the organic products did not work. A test was deemed unsuccessful if a subject got bit more than twice in a five-minute period. They also evaluated the number of landings a mosquito made. As for ticks, researchers watched to see if the insects turned around when they reached the part of a test subject’s arm treated with a product.

Two products containing plant-based ingredients did work, though. A lemon/eucalyptus spray by the brand Repel was found to be effective in thwarting biting mosquitoes and ticks. As was Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula, which uses a 20 percent concentration of Picaridin. That’s similar to the chemical in black pepper that makes it spicy.

However, just because the two products contained plant-based ingredients successful in warding off biting insects doesn’t mean they are entirely safe. Repel can be hard on the eyes causing temporary, but severe problems. It’s also not recommended on small kids.

Picaridin comes with some cautions as well. It can cause minor irritation to users, especially those with specific sensitivities.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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