AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas is getting hotter as summer draws near, which means mosquitoes are out and about.

Mosquito bites are itchy and annoying, but the insects can also pose health risks by spreading diseases and viruses like Zika, West Nile, dengue fever, encephalitis and canine heartworm.

Austin Public Health (APH) said Austin-Travis County saw one case of West Nile in a patient just last year and identified six positive mosquito pools throughout the county. 

Mosquito prevention

APH said mosquitoes can be avoided through the “Four D’s”:

  • Dusk and dawn: Although different species of mosquitoes are active at different times of day, the species that spread West Nile Virus are most active between dusk and dawn. 
  • Dress: Wear pants and long sleeves when you are outside. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; mosquito-repellent clothing is also available  
  • DEET: Apply insect repellent that contains DEET. Read and follow label instructions. Spray both exposed skin and clothing with repellent. Find the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of repellents here
  • Drain: Get rid of standing water in your yard and neighborhood. Old tires, flowerpots, clogged rain gutters, birdbaths and wading pools can be breeding sites for mosquitos.  

The Austin Environmental Vector Control program also provides education, information and ideas on techniques that can be used to mitigate or eradicate mosquitoes and rodents. 

You can report a mosquito problem by calling 311 or complete a service request online.

DIY remedies, repellents

KXAN asked viewers for tips on keeping mosquitoes away. We also reached out to pest control experts for advice and to myth-bust some of those tips. Their responses are below the following list.

Central Texans’ hacks on keeping mosquitoes away:

  • Add a few drops of essential oils like lavender or rosemary to lotion and mix it up before applying
  • Make a habitat to attract their natural predators, like Mosquitofish, creating bat boxes, attracting dragonflies and toads, etc.
  • Use coffee as a repellent
  • Use Pine-Sol as a repellent
  • Use dryer sheets as a repellent
  • Keep a fan running
  • Put Malathion on your yard
  • Citronella candles

As viewers love to remind us, you could always just move away (but we’re pretty sure mosquitoes exist outside of Texas too).

Another option is to have local pest control treat your yard for mosquitoes.

Advice from local experts

We reached out to local experts for their input on the above DIY solutions to see if they actually work and find out the most effective ways of getting rid of mosquitoes.

Barry Maranville with Mosquito Hunters of Southeast Austin- Bastrop-Cedar Creek said some of these at-home remedies can help, but many of them are not large-scale solutions. J. Santos Portugal III, Ph.D., B.C.E., an entomologist with ABC Home & Commercial Services, also provided some insight on the solutions.

APH gave input about the safety and effectiveness of the remedies as well.

Essential oils/lavender: Maranville said essential oil like lavender can help repel mosquitos but not on a large scale. He suggests growing lavender plants in gardens around the house and on the porch or patio because mosquitoes are not attracted to it.

APH said it “cannot confirm or deny any of the homeopathic methods but always refer to the science.”

Portugal cited research from New Mexico State University that says there may be some amount of mosquito repellency in specific essential oils, but it’s preliminary data. He instead pointed to six specific ingredients that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Disease Control recommends:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oil)
  • Para-methane-diol
  • 2-undecanone

Citronella: Maranville said the same of citronella, it can help, but not on a large scale. However, Portugal, citing a paper in the Journal of Insect Science, said evidence suggests that citronella candles may not be as effective as once thought in repelling mosquitoes.

Fans: Fans do help, Maranville said. Portugal seconded that, saying that mosquitoes are weak flyers. APH also confirmed fans can help to repel mosquitoes indoors.

Natural predators: Maranville does not suggest this. He said natural predators could bring other issues or diseases.

APH concurred and suggested using caution about introducing/promoting other species to a habitat, “since that could create additional safety concerns.”

Maranville said mosquitoes are attracted to light, shade, CO2, lactic acid, heat, natural oils, body odor, smelly lotions, alcohol consumption, perfumes, and colognes. They also prefer Type O blood, and a full moon increases mosquito activity, according to Maranville. Dark clothing is more attractive than light colors, and blonde hair is more attractive to mosquitoes than dark hair, he said.

Mosquito season is March through October in Central Texas, and only adult females bite because they need a protein in our blood to reproduce, according to Maranville.

Once the average day and night temperature gets to 55 degrees, mosquitoes will start their breeding cycles, Maranville said. He said it can take only a matter of days for a mosquito egg to become an adult, and an adult female mosquito can lay 100 eggs at a time. According to Maranville, a bottle cap of water can hold around 100 mosquito eggs, which is why the insects are so hard to control.

Solutions safe for the environment

If you’re worried about chemicals in mosquito repellent that could be harmful to the environment, Maranville said most of the products the Mosquito Hunters use are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Maranville said Mosquito Hunters treat trees, bushes, shrubs, and shaded/tall grass, but never blooming flowers or plants or edible gardens, which is where butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds spend their time.

“Our standard treatments have an active ingredient called a Pyrethroid.  It is derived from the chrysanthemum flower. The active ingredient in our treatments is the same compound used in head lice medications and pet shampoos,” Maranville explained.

He said the Mosquito Hunters also offer all-natural products, and the active ingredient in those treatments are essential oils, including cedarwood oil, lemongrass oil, and cinnamon oil.

APH said, “anytime a pest control product is used there is a chance that non-target species can be affected.” The agency recommended the non-toxic option Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis), which kills mosquito larvae before they can reach adult stage. APH said this product, when used as directed, has not been shown to affect humans, honey bees, fish, food crops or drinking water supplies.

Mosquito-borne disease/virus symptoms and what to do about them

APH said while mosquitoes can carry several diseases, West Nile Virus (WNV) is the most prevalent in Central Texas.

“It is estimated that 20% of people who become infected with WNV will exhibit mild flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache and body aches, a skin rash on the trunk of the body, and swollen lymph glands. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact their primary care provider.”