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Mosquito bites are a summer torment, raising welts on the sensitive, and causing a sometimes unbearable itching. When 62 people in New York City became ill in the summer of 1999 due to mosquitoes carrying the West Nile encephalitis virus (seven eventually died), people throughout the country became more concerned with how to prevent mosquitoes.

The best thing to do is to look around your house for standing water and remove it. Dirty gutters, stagnant fountains and birdbaths, leaky pipes and air conditioners all make for good breeding grounds. Repair and clean as necessary to make these areas dry. Birdbaths and fountains should be emptied and cleaned regularly, and the water changed at least every couple of days. If you have a pond, emptying it isn't an option, but stocking it with predaceous minnow might be-these fish love to eat mosquitoes. The overgrown areas of your yard (especially if they contain tree holes or stumps) can also be attractive to the insect. Malathion can be used, but it s effectiveness as a repellent isn t nearly as long as it s environmental impact. Consider trimming the area back as much as is reasonable for you.

Citronella candles and wood smoke (mosquito or cedar coils) are time-honored ways to keep the pests from ruining a backyard get- together. Contrary to what you may have heard, your cologne isn t as attractive to a mosquito as is the amount of lactic acid in your body. A diet heavy in garlic can mask your levels of mosquito-drawing chemicals, but may also keep away the neighbors. For natural repellents, the essential oils of lemon thyme, eucalyptus, geranium and pennyroyal are useful, and some can even be grown in your kitchen garden. If you prefer a chemical repellent, the June 2000 Consumer Reports found that those containing DEET worked best of all.

If everything fails, and you find yourself bitten, try not to scratch, no matter how tempting the urge. If you should tear the welt, infection and scarring could well be the result. Take a cool bath and some ibuprofen to reduce the swelling, and then apply calamine lotion (now thankfully available in clear-no more nasty pink streaks) or cortisone cream to prevent itching and dry the welt. For a natural remedy, try a paste of baking soda and water applied to the area, or a dab of tea-tree oil. For the less orthodox (middle of the night when you don t want to go to the store moments), a dab of Anbesol or toothpaste can provide relief.