Mosquito season is ramping up slowly but surely as the weather warms up throughout the U.S.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are a real concern in many parts of the country.
Most people know that Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, and some know Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever are tropical and mosquito-borne diseases. West Nile Virus is the “poster bug” mosquito-transmitted disease here in the U.S.
Mosquitoes are clever little beasties. All the males spend their lives sipping nectar, and are not even equipped to bite you. The females also spend most of their lives on the vegetarian nectar buffet, but need a blood meal to reproduce.
Mosquitoes are actually choosy about who they bite. They are attracted to carbon dioxide and a number of organic chemicals in sweat. They prefer type O blood and warm, moist people with a lot of bacteria on their skin. They especially like pregnant women because they exhale more carbon dioxide than others.
Most mosquitoes prefer to do their biting around sunset. During the heat of the day they hang out in cool vegetation, and sip their version of mint juleps.
The problem with mosquito bites is the same problem with reusing syringes. Bad things spread. In this case, the mosquito pumps a little saliva into the wound as a blood thinner, which keeps her straw from clogging. If she bites someone with Malaria or another disease, she sucks up those germs with the blood, only to spread them to the next person she bites. Mosquitoes can live up to four weeks, so there is opportunity to spread the disease.
West Nile Virus is more notorious than it perhaps deserves. Most people infected with it have minor symptoms, and most don’t realize they are sick. Maybe 20 percent have some fever and viral symptoms. One percent gets really sick with brain inflammation (encephalitis), which can result in death. The one percent is usually over the age of 50. We have no vaccine for West Nile, or even a very good treatment.
In diseases that are vector-born, staying out of trouble is straightforward. You simply can’t get the disease without getting bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito.
Step one is avoiding mosquitoes. Avoid outdoors around sundown – mosquito-feeding frenzy time.
You can also wear clothing that covers arms and legs, giving you some protection as well. For better protection, the insect repellant DEET is very effective, and can be applied to skin or clothing.
A little sensible preparation goes a long way in avoiding mosquito-transmitted disease. One of the really interesting things is what mosquitoes will not transmit, which includes the most infectious diseases from colds to Ebola.
Fortunately in the U.S., we don’t have to worry about Malaria or most of the encephalitis-causing illnesses, at least for now.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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