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Summer's bug problem: repellents that work and some that can hurt

Many of us long for the balmy long days of summer, when the sun stays up late, the beaches beckon and outdoor fun abounds. But there are some of us who dread the one thing that can put a damper on the sunny festivities: those pesky bugs.

Yes, those annoying buzzing insects, especially the blood-thirsty mosquitoes. These winged creatures not only deliver painful bites that can result in even more painful itching and sores for some, but they can also be hazardous to our health.

I grew up on an island and bugs terrorized me, oftentimes leaving my skin covered in pumps and oozing sores. Suffice it to say my childhood and formative years were rudely interrupted.

There wasn't much that kept the bugs away from me, though my mom tried with local remedies like burning black sage plants and mosquito coils, but poverty can exacerbate any situation. I contracted typhoid fever when I was 8 years old and almost died, or so my mom told me years later. All I remember is I was in the hospital for almost a month.

So you can understand my "beef" with bugs: It's personal. Seriously, there are now insect repellent on the market that were not available back in the day to a poor island girl, but be careful--all repellents aren't created equal, and some have dangerous side effects.

So before you spray or lather on those oils, read the following.

A friend recently touted the excellent benefits of DEET, saying it was the first repellent she had found that really worked. I was ecstatic, for as I listened to her speak while constantly slapping away the persistent merciless stinging of insects in her backyard, I thought relief had finally arrived for my trips back to my island home.

Then I logged on to the Internet and my hopes were coldly dashed when I came across an article on repellents and the dangers of--you guessed right--DEET.

According to the EPA, DEET is safe when concentrated at 30 percent or less but studies reportedly show that this bug spray, first developed for the army during WWII, can cause neurological damage, seizures and other complications.

Citronella oils and candles are natural, safe repellents which I have used in the past and they offer a modicum of protection. Other oils such as lavender, basil and geranium reportedly offer some relief. As I mentioned earlier, mosquito coils is a product you can light in rooms and outdoor areas to help ward off the bugs. You also can use a tropical plant called black sage.

Some sprays and creams include OFF! and Avon's Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus(the SSS line). Avon's towelettes, SSS Picaridin Plus, also work and smell good as well.

A trusty mosquito net is a must-have if you're travelling to the tropics, serving as a heavy-duty back-up to the sprays, creams and oils.

Use ingredients like Calendula, lavender and AD ointment as soothing salves for the bites left behind when some of those pesky critters still manage to reach your skin despite your army of protection.

Pay attention to those bites and be sure to visit your doctor for antibiotics if they look like they are even remotely on their way to becoming infected. Mosquitos can carry deadly viruses and other diseases. Also, be sure you're up to date on all the necessary vaccines before you board that plane for those far-away, halcyon tropical vacation days.