They're out there ... waiting and watching ... getting ready to strike. Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy summer — look out, it's skeeter season!

How can you fight off these pesky, blood-sucking creatures? Well, let's first check out the facts:

Mean Girls

Who is biting you? Believe it or not, only female mosquitoes suck people's blood. Their saliva contains anticoagulant proteins that prevent your blood from clotting and ensure the mosquito a steady flow of blood. They become insect vampires because they need the protein from blood to procreate. Male mosquitoes are the sweet ones; they only feed on nectar.

Chemical Attraction

Like heat seeking missiles, mosquitoes are genetically programmed to track you down and attack. They possess an array of sensors that help them find their prey. They have chemical sensors that are extremely sensitive to the carbon dioxide in exhaled breath and radiated through skin pores. Oddly enough, mosquitoes are attracted to several chemicals found in sweat, so load on the anti-perspirant! They also have a keen sense of sight — they'll spot you if you're wearing clothing that contrasts with the colors of your background environment and therefore assume that you are alive and full of blood. Chomp. You just got bitten.

The Itch Factor

Don't scratch! When mosquitoes bite you, their saliva is what makes you itch. As tempting as it may be, try to avoid scratching your mosquito bites because it may prolong the healing process. Wash them with mild soap and water. If the itching persists, try anti-itch medicines such as Calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams or antihistamines. Talk to your physician before the summer kicks in so you can be prepared.

Small, but Deadly

Who would imagine that a bug less than half an inch in size is responsible for worldwide disease? Mosquitoes can be linked with nearly a dozen different diseases including Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, Rift Valley Fever, and of course, West Nile Virus (WNV).

Most of these diseases occur in tropical climates, but incidences of each have been found elsewhere in the world, and West Nile Virus has recently become a concern in the U.S.

WNV is a serious disease, but it is important to remember that there is a very slim chance of getting infected. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov, in 2006 only about 4,200 people in the U.S. were infected with WNV, of which only 177 died.

Although there is no specific treatment for WNV, doctors can treat the symptoms if spotted early. You can also help your community by reporting dead birds to the local authorities, as this may be a sign of WNV in your area. Find out if your neighborhood has an organized mosquito control program. If no program is established, work with your local government to start one. Become an advocate!

Fight Back!

Don't be a victim of these pesky villains any longer! Through mosquito control and personal protection you can minimize your chances of being bitten. Here are a few helpful tips:

• Eliminate breeding spots. Standing water found in places like clogged rain gutters, tarps, pool covers, trays under potted plants, and even small toys kept outside are hot spots for these annoying bugs. Rearrange or move items so that water won't collect. Try stacking buckets, wheelbarrows, and other open containers upside down.

• Double-check screens. Windows and doors should be tightly sealed so mosquitoes can't get inside. Remind the kids to close the door behind them when they go in and out of the house.

• Use personal insect repellents. What's the deal with DEET? It is the active ingredient in many insect repellent products and has been proven most effective in keeping the little pests away. Yet, there has been some controversy surrounding the effects of DEET on personal health. After completing a comprehensive evaluation of DEET, the EPA concluded that DEET does not present a health concern if the consumer follows the directions on the label. For more information visit www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/deet.htm. Try Backwoods Cutter® Mosquito Wipes or similar products, which allow for complete control of application and 8-hours of protection. These can be found at www.cutterinsectrepellent.com

• Dress appropriately. If weather permits, wear loose fitting long-sleeve shirts, long pants, socks, and a hat when outdoors. Mosquitoes can bite through clothing so consider spraying your clothing with repellent or try mosquito-repellent BUZZ OFF(tm) Insect Shield clothing available at outdoor clothing retailers like Orvis and L.L.Bean. It provides built-in protection from biting insects. Check out www.buzzoff.com for more information.

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