West Nile Fever is one of the newest diseases to arrive in the United States. In the late 1990’s it took up residence in the wild bird population and in the mosquitoes that bit those birds. Every summer since 1999, there has been an epidemic outbreak of West Nile fever among humans who are bitten by these same mosquitoes. But is only one of the many diseases transmitted by mosquito bite.
Mosquitos, and the diseases they carry, are a major health risk around the world, killing more than a million people every year.
In Africa and Southeast Asia, malaria and dengue fever are two of the major killers of children. Other mosquito-carried diseases around the world include Rift Valley fever, chikungunya, and Japanese encephalitis. The control of mosquitoes and the control and eradication of the diseases they transmit, is one of the major health goals of the World Health Organization.
In the US there are more than 60 mosquito species. All are capable of carrying these illnesses: malaria (which has been reasonably eradicated in the US), eastern equine encephalitis (which kills 1/3 of those infected), western equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and now West Nile fever (which is the least severe, but can require long weeks of recovery).
All of these illnesses are characterized by fever, malaise, headache, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, delirium and coma. There is no vaccine for any of these illnesses and no direct treatment for any of the types of encephalitis.
The best treatment? Avoid getting bit!
Most mosquitoes bite at sunrise and sunset. These mosquitoes may carry malaria, which is now quite rare in the USA, but can also carry the encephalitis viruses and the West Nile Virus. But several types of daytime biting mosquitoes also carry the encephalitis viruses and West Nile Virus. So protection from mosquito bites is a concern at any time of day.
Although DDT almost completely eradicated malaria, today’s mosquito control focuses on destroying egg-laying areas – usually in still or slow moving water. This is a difficult task, since most prime breeding areas are deep in protected wet lands, marshes, swamps and forests.
Around the home you can eliminate standing water in flower pots, pans, tires and tree stumps. Cut drain holes in tire swings and be sure that water does not collect near air conditioner units or at the bottom of eave troughs. Keep pools and spas chlorinated. Empty children’s wading pools when not in use.
Mosquitoes are attracted to movement, heat, dark colors (hotter), sweat, and carbon dioxide. They also love smells like old shoes, socks, and perfumes. Anyone who is moving quickly, is sweaty, smelly and breathing hard will be instant mosquito bait.
When you have to be outdoors during peak mosquito-biting time, you can protect yourself by wearing long sleeves and pants and using insect repellants. DEET 25-50% is required to be effective, or slow release lotions with lower DEET concentrations.
DEET is safe for children and pregnant women so long as it is kept out of the mouth and the eyes. When window screens are not available, over-bed mosquito nets treated with permethrin should be used. The very best protection is to treat clothes with permethrin and put DEET on the skin.
It’s not just a mosquito bite – it can be a potentially lethal disease.