by Kimberly Allen, RN
Spring has arrived and with it comes pools of water from melting snow and rain. The swamp areas that were once frozen over are now wet and filled with mosquitoes. There’s wet soil and leaves in almost every yard harboring those small, pesky insects. Believe it or not, mosquito borne diseases are some of the deadliest found in the world today. In fact, according the World Health Organization, mosquitoes cause over 300 million cases of disease every year in humans. The American Mosquito Control Association says there are over 2500 different species of mosquitoes worldwide with at least 150 of which live in the US. Mosquitoes are one of the most diverse species that exists today. Each specie of mosquito is able to adapt to live in specific habitats. They display behaviors that are unique and bite a variety of animals. Some bite in the morning while others bite at night as well as some that bite during the bright light of the sun and some in the shade. These are also some mosquitoes that prefer to bite humans while others prefer other mammals like dogs, birds, horses and livestock.
In the US, St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) is the most common mosquito transmitted disease in humans. While it was once found only in the Midwest and Southeast, it is now found throughout the lower 48 states. Though there are approximately 193 diagnosed cases per year, the majority go undetected and undiagnosed. The severity of the illness can range from a febrile headache to menigoencephalitis.
The West Nile virus (WNV) was first reported in the Eastern US in 1999. It is now found throughout the US and has become more common in the Western part of the country, especially in California and Arizona. As of 2010, 30,491 cases have been reported to the CDC. Of those, 12,650 have caused meningitis and/or encephalitis resulting in 1,196 deaths. According to the CDC there have been over 341,491 infections of WNV, however, because of it’s similarity to other infections it has been grossly under reported.
Dengue, once a disease of the tropics including Central America, Africa and Asia, has now become more common in the US, especially in areas like Florida, South Texas and Hawaii. Though dengue has an overall low mortality rate, the symptoms can make life miserable for some. It is also becoming a more serious infection, increasing in both frequency and mortality.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a mosquito borne illness that affects both horses and humans. It is one of the most serious mosquito borne viruses found in North America as well as Central and South America and the Caribbean. EEE infections can range from mild with symptoms ranging from none or mild flu like symptoms to more serious symptoms involving the central nervous system. Approximately one half of those that develop severe central nervous system symptoms die from the infection. Those that survive tend to suffer permanent brain damage and many require lifetime care.
For pet lovers, it’s important to protect your pets as well. Besides being carriers of viruses like the WNV, they also carry deadly parasites including heart worm which is potentially fatal in dogs. When an infected mosquito bites your dog it transmits the microscopic worm into your dog’s bloodstream. Sometimes it takes years for your dog to show symptoms of infection. It is a very nasty and deadly illness. These worms have been known to grow up to 10 inches long clogging your dogs heart. Severely infected dogs can die suddenly during exercise or when excited because the worms clog their heart.
Mosquitoes are difficult to control and are quite prolific because they have a rapid life cycle. A mosquito can go from egg to adult in 4 days. Once an adult, the female mosquito can lay over 200 eggs at a time and if the weather conditions are just right, the eggs can hatch in just 4 days. And though most adult mosquitoes only live a few weeks the specie, that carries the WNV can survive the winter hibernating until spring only to emerge again. Mosquito borne diseases are considered a serious threat to both humans and their pets, however with prevention and control it is possible to protect ourselves and our pets from the deadly infections they carry.
Mosquitoes are responsible for more human suffering than any other insect. According to the World Health Organization over 1 million people die from mosquito borne diseases every year worldwide. However, they don’t only infect us humans they infect our pets also especially dogs and horses. In addition to the numerous disease some potentially fatal to both humans and our pets. They tend to cause skin irritation which can be severe if you have an allergic reaction to the mosquitoes saliva.
These disease can be expensive to treat, the cost of treating dengue fever alone is approximately $2 billion a year, so prevention is a much healthier and cost effective way to manage mosquito borne diseases. There are a variety of measures you can take both in your home and outside. The best way to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home is to be sure all your screens are in good condition. That’s both any windows and doors. Remember mosquitoes are tiny insects and don’t need much of an opening to get in. The smallest hole or even a corner that isn’t securely attached can be an open door for them. Make sure your screen door closes securely and remember every time the door opens mosquitoes can slip in so holding the door open for long periods of time allows even more of them to enter.
When it comes to your yard the most important thing to do is either get rid of or treating standing water. Mosquitoes require water to lay their eggs. If you remove, treat or cover any standing water, you remove areas where they can lay their eggs. Items in your yard that are there specifically to hold water like bird baths and swimming pool covers should be treated to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs. Clean and maintain all rain gutters, removing any leaves and/or debris from the downspouts and any water that has pooled on flat roofs. Old unused tires have become a significant breeding ground for mosquitoes and should be removed. Don’t keep any containers that can hold water in areas that are hard to see like under bushes, the deck or porch as well as the stairs.
There are some other things you can do in your yard to help reduce your mosquito population. Believe it or not bats are great to have around. They can consume hundreds of mosquitoes a night, as many as 600 an hour. So consider putting up a bat house. Also, if you have an outdoor pond or other standing water in your yard frogs are huge mosquito eaters and would be beneficial to any permanent pond.
Depending on where you are most mosquitoes are most active either in the early morning or evening and nighttime. One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family during these times is to wear long sleeve shirts and long loose pants as well as socks. Cover any playpens or baby strollers with netting to protect infants and toddlers.
Another important component in protecting yourself and your family from mosquitoes is the use of repellents. Using citrus-based candles and other aroma repellents is a natural way to keep mosquitoes away from areas where you congregate. Citronella candles are the most popular choice to keep around tables where you eat outside. Another natural aroma repellent can be made by putting whole cloves into half limes.
If you live in an area that is heavily populated with mosquitoes, most experts agree that repellents with DEET are the most effective. However, they should never be used on children less than 2 months of age because DEET can be very toxic to children. The most effective strength is 25 %-35% DEET. All repellents with DEET should be washed off when you go back inside. Also, if you have put repellent on your cloths you should wash them before wearing them again. There are alternatives to DEET repellents including Picaridin which is a chemical repellent and oil of lemon eucalyptus which is a plant-based repellent. According to the CDC Picaridin is as effective as repellents containing DEET. While oil of lemon eucalyptus, also called PMD, is as effective as low concentrations of DEET. Never use Picaridin on children under 2 months of age while PMD should not be used on children under 3 years of age. When applying any repellent to children always put it on your hands first and then rub it on your child being sure to avoid your child’s mouth and eyes as well as use it only sparingly around the ears. Keep all repellents out of the reach of children.
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.