The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects the first cases of locally acquired Zika virus infection to emerge on the U.S. mainlaind within the next month or so. When they do, we will officially be living in a first of times: Never before has a bug bite carried the risk of birth defects. 

In other words, protecting against mosquito bites will be more important than ever this summer, especially for women who are or may become pregnant. Skin repellents will be essential; but so will keeping your yard, and clothing as bug free as possible. We've talked with the experts, and done our own tests. Here's what you need to know.

Your Deck and Yard

Mosquitoes: Our tests last year of two area repellents—citronella candles and a battery-powered diffuser that blows out geraniol—showed they were ineffective at keeping mosquitoes away. But an oscillating pedestal fan on high cut mosquito landings by 45 to 65 percent, at least among people close to it.

Manufacturers also sell mosquito traps that use fans, electric grids, or adhesive pads to capture and kill mosquitoes. The devices do kill some of them. But the American Mosquito Control Association says it’s unclear whether that translates into a noticeable reduction in the mosquito population.

Our safety experts also warn against using yard foggers or misters that spray insecticide. You might inhale the chemicals, including some compounds that might disrupt your hormone system and that have been linked to neurological, developmental, and other health problems. In addition, some experts worry that overuse of those insecticides could lead to the development of resistant mosquitoes.

Instead, your best bet is doing things that discourage mosquitoes from breeding in the first place. Because they’re drawn to murky water, keep your yard free of containers filled with water, such as gutters, birdbaths, tires, wheelbarrows, wading pools, and swimming pool covers. Clear away ivy and decaying leaves, because mosquitoes like cool, dark places.

Other steps you might try include using LED or yellow lightbulbs (read our lightbulb buying guide) on your porch and around your house, and plugging in a fan when on your deck. Citronella, in candles or in the oil in tiki torches, is a mild repellent.

Ticks: They like tall grass and lots of shade. So keep your lawn mowed (read our lawn mower buying guide) remove leaves and other debris, and try to let as much sun into your yard as possible. Consider putting up a fence around your property to keep out deer and other large animals that can carry ticks. And don’t forget to check your pets for ticks after they have been romping in the yard.

Stinging insects: Keep garbage cans and picnic food covered, because bees love discarded food. Most bees and wasps will leave you alone if you don’t bother them, so don’t swat at them. Nests should be removed only if they are in high-traffic areas. If you can, wait until the fall or winter, when the nests are abandoned. If you need to remove them sooner, do it early in the spring, and early or late in the day when the insects are less active.

Insecticide powders or sprays might be necessary, but follow directions and keep pets and children away. Always wear head-to-toe protective clothing, and never remove nests if it requires standing on a ladder; call a professional instead. Traps with the chemical heptyl butyrate may help control bees.

A man tucking pants into his socks to avoid ticks.
To avoid ticks, wear close-toed shoes and tuck your pants into your socks.

Your Clothes

Mosquitoes: Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes, especially when you're out at dawn to dusk. Avoid tight clothes (mosquitoes can bite through them), dark colors, and perfume or aftershave (both attract them). Apply a good repellent to exposed skin and to your clothes, too (but never under them).  You can purchase clothes treated with the repellent permethrin. Our tests suggest that they can provide a layer of protection against mosquitoes, but some work better than others and they don't eliminate the need for repellents. Read "Can Permethrin-Treated Clothing Help You Avoid Mosquito Bites?" for all the details.

Ticks: When walking through wooded or grassy areas in the summer, wear the same clothes that ward off mosquitoes. Light-colored clothes are best, because that makes it easier to spot ticks.

Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. Inspect your skin when you go indoors, and use tweezers to gently remove any attached ticks. (Remove the whole body, including the head.) Ticks have to be on your body for at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease. For extra protection, toss your clothes into a clothes dryer on high heat to kill ticks that might be attached.

Stinging insects: Bees are attracted to strong scents, so if you have lots of them or wasps in your yard, or you’re headed to a picnic, avoid perfumed soaps, shampoos, and deodorants. And because sweat can anger bees, consider washing up before heading out.

Editor's Note: This article was adapted from the July 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Guide to Mosquito and Tick Diseases

Serious Side Effects

Symptoms appear

Treatments

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Common Symptoms
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