by Kimberly Allen, RN
There’s an invasion going on this summer. There’s a new unwanted pest that is inviting itself to your outdoor party. In truth, the Asian Tiger mosquito isn’t new, it actually first arrived in the US in the ’80’s and has increased by 220% in some areas in just the past 2 years, making them a significant problem. The Asian tiger mosquito may be beautiful with it’s jet black with silver-white stripes, but it is also more aggressive. These mosquitoes are blood-lusting pests. But they’re not after just your blood, they’re after your pets blood too. This aggressive mosquito attacks pretty much anything that contains blood from birds to live stock as well as wild animals and humans.
While the Asian Tiger mosquito is native to Southeast Asia, through avenues of modern travel, including shipping, it has been able to invade, not only the other tropical regions, but Europe and the US as well. In the US, high populations of Asian Tiger mosquitoes have been reported in 27 states including the entire East Coast from Florida to Maine. One of the factors that make these mosquitoes such pests is their ability to adapt. They are even able to successfully “hibernate” through the winter months. Another thing that makes these mosquitoes more prolific is that while all mosquitoes require water to lay their eggs the Asian Tiger mosquito only needs 1/4 inch of water to complete it’s life cycle. It can lay its eggs in a bottle cap, one of those flat aluminum ones from the top of a soda bottle. They can even lay their eggs in a leaf that has water pooled on it. The eggs can even survive in the water once it gets too cold for them to hatch then once spring comes and it gets warm enough they will complete their cycle.
The Asian Tiger mosquito also is on the hunt both day and night. While most mosquitoes are generally out around dawn and dusk looking for blood, the Asian Tiger mosquito doesn’t confine it’s hunting to those times. This mosquito will hunt for your blood all day long, especially in wooded areas. And once this mosquito bites you, it doesn’t like to let go either. However, what makes this mosquito so dangerous isn’t it’s aggressiveness, but that it can carry at least 30 different diseases including the West Nile virus, dengue fever and St Louis encephalitis. The Asian Tiger mosquito has even been responsible for epidemics including the chikungunya fever epidemic in 2005 – 2006 on the French island La Reunion. In this epidemic there were approximately 266,000 people that had been infected with the virus with 248 deaths by September of 2006. Then in 2007 it became the first mosquito to transmit the chikungunya virus to the European continent causing an outbreak in the Italian provence of Ravenna.
The Asian Tiger mosquito can also be deadly for your dog or cat as they transmit the parasitic round worm known as Dirofilareaimmites, that causes heartworm. Also, their habit of biting a variety of hosts gives the Asian tiger mosquito the ability to create a bridge vector. In other words, certain diseases like the West Nile virus will be able to jump the species boundary.
While this mosquito is particularly aggressive there are still measures you can take to prevent them from spreading and biting. Basically the same precautions you would take to prevent your average mosquito infestation except remember these beautiful mosquitoes need very little water to lay their eggs so it;s important to check for any standing water after a rain storm, also, repellents containing DEET are very effective against the Asian Tiger mosquito.
With the amount of rain that’s been falling on the east coast researchers in the US are concerned there could be an epidemic in the US. they strongly advise that taking appropriate preventative measures could not only limit the impact of the Asian Tiger mosquito but potentially prevent an epidemic.
Chikungunya fever also known as CHIKV is a viral illness similar to dengue fever. Like dengue fever it is a mosquito borne illness. The CHIKV usually affects adults but can also infect children. In fact during an epidemic in 2009 a baby borne to a mother already infected with CHIKV was already infected when born, indicating this virus also crosses the placental barrier.
While CHIKV may not be considered as deadly as it’s more well known cousin dengue fever, health officials believe it warrants the same degree of urgency. Due to the significantly increased population of the beautiful but potentially deadly Asian Tiger mosquito, many health officials are concerned there could be an epidemic of CHIKV in the US. One health official stated that though CHIKV has been around since the 1990’s, the incidence has increased over the past 2 years.
The symptoms of CHIKV usually appear 2 to 3 days after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus, however, they can appear anywhere from 1 to 12 days after being bitten. Typically the first symptom to appear is a high fever, usually 104F or higher which usually lasts somewhere between a few days to a few weeks though it can last longer. Most people then develop a rash that can be either whats called a petichial rash, which is very small red to purple spots on your body, or whats called a maculopapular rash, which has a larger flat red area that is covered with tiny bumps. This rash is almost always on your chest and back but can also be on your arms and legs. Another defining characteristic of CHIKV is that is also causes severe arthritis in several joints. Many patients with CHIKV suffer from severe, debilitating joint pain that lasts for months and in many cases much longer. Though many of the symptoms associated with CHIKV are the same or similar to those of dengue fever prolonged arthritis is not one of them. The prolonged joint pain is what gave CHIKV it’s name. In the Kimakonde language of Mozambique chikungunya means ‘that which bends up’. There are also several other symptoms associated with CHIKV including a severe headache that can last from days to weeks along with nausea and vomiting as well as fatigue. In addition to the joint pain, you may also experience muscle pain. Many people also experience insomnia as well as conjunctivitis and mild photophobia. Because CHIKV so closely resembles dengue fever and frequently is found in areas where dengue fever is common it is frequently miss diagnosed as dengue fever instead of CHIKV. Many experts also believe there are numerous incidence of “silent” CHIKV infections because the person infected has symptoms that are so mild they go unnoticed and undiagnosed.
There is no cure for CHIKV infections and there is currently no vaccine specific to preventing CHIKV infections available. Treatment of CHIKV infections is aimed at symptom relief. The types of measures found to be the most effective would include getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids especially if you have frequent vomiting and a prolonged high fever as these can lead to dehydration which can in turn lead to other problems. For relief of your joint pain as well as the headache your doctor may recommend the use of acetaminophen or NSAID’s like ibuprofen or naproxen. You should avoid aspirin. Some doctors are using Chloroquine to treat the symptoms associated with CHIKV as well as an anti inflammatory agent to fight the arthritis that is part of the illness.
Most experts agree prevention is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus and possibly prevent an epidemic. Taking standard precautions against mosquito bites including the use of insect repellents containing DEET are recommended. However, it’s important to note that the main carrier of the CHIKV, the Asian Tiger mosquito, is more aggressive and blood thirsty than most mosquitoes. It will bite all day long and while it prefers wooded areas it will bite in the sun also. It also requires much less water to lay it’s eggs so it’s important to remove any standing water from leaves with pools of water on them to soda cans and bottle caps.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.