The hot, humid weather is great for spending time outdoors. But it's also great for one of the most ubiquitous pests — mosquitoes.

With all the buzz about mosquito borne illnesses, homeowners are being warned about steps they should take to protect themselves from danger, and to stop itchy bites.

An emerging threat that continues to make headlines is the Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control has placed a level two alert for the virus, which means practicing enhanced precautions. The agency recommends pregnant woman not travel to Brazil and is encouraging travellers to practice enhanced precautions. The virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of a Aedes species mosquito. It also can be spread by a man to his sex partners. A pregnant woman can pass the virus to her fetus during pregnancy. The virus has been linked to severe birth defects and neurological issues, according to the CDC.

The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis, as well as muscle pain and headache. The illness is "usually mild," according to the CDC, and the virus remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week. There is currently no vaccine.

"To date, Zika has not been spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States," the CDC states on its website. "However, lab tests have confirmed Zika virus in travelers returning to the United States and in some non-travelers who got Zika through sex with a traveler."

Health officials in Massachusetts also warn the public of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus. Both are uncommon, but can lead to serious illness.


Public health officials and mosquito control technicians encourage homeowners to stop mosquitoes in their tracks.

Mosquitoes reproduce in standing water and need water for three of their four life-cycle stages. Kiddie pools, birdbaths, buckets, flowerpot saucers, or a vessel as small as a water bottle cap can all provide enough water for mosquitoes to thrive, according to the American Mosquito Control Association.

The nonprofit organization recommends on their website that people tip over any vessel, container or object that can hold standing water.

Plastic or canvas tarps can form pockets that trap water; rearrange them so the water will drain off. Clear rain gutters of debris and remove standing water off of flat roofs. Check under air conditioning units for puddles that don't evaporate. Don't let water sit outside in pet dishes. And if you have livestock, flush water troughs twice a week.

Other big offenders are tire swings, some fire pits and portable fireplaces, and children's toys, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

As a rule of thumb, empty standing water at least once a week from birdbaths and wading pools.

This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal
This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. On Friday, Feb. 26, 2015, the U.S. government said Zika infections have been confirmed in nine pregnant women in the United States. All got the virus overseas. Three babies have been born, one with a brain defect. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

Fifty-one different species of mosquitoes live in Massachusetts, and 45 have been found in Vermont, according to information from both states' health agencies. But you don't have to have them ruin your outdoor event or camping trip.

The CDC recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in mosquito-heavy environments. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk and various sources recommend against outdoor activities, like gardening, at those times.

If you must be outside, use an insect repellent. Government agencies and public health officials recommend mosquito repellents with one of five active ingredients. That includes DEET — used by brand names Off! and Cutter — as well as picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.

It's recommended to follow label instructions and take safety measures — the CDC says not to apply insect repellent on skin under clothing and not to use insect repellent on babies younger than two months old.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979