Chances are, when you were growing up, mosquito bites were just an annoyance. Being bitten was part of being outside in the summertime, and the biggest challenge was trying not to scratch. Now, however, we’re seeing mosquito-borne illnesses in parts of the United States, and some can cause serious health effects.
West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus is most commonly transmitted to humans from mosquito bites. As of January, 2015, 47 states and the District of Columbia had reported infections in either people, birds or mosquitoes in 2014. The most common time for infection infection in Oklahoma is July through October. While West Nile Virus can become very serious, over 80% of people infected never become ill or show symptoms of the disease. Of the 20% who do become ill, most have mild cases. They might have fever, headache, fatigue, body aches or a rash on the body trunk. In the most severe cases, people could develop a neurologic disease like meningitis or encephalitis. For the most part, the people who are at highest risk for becoming seriously ill from West Nile Virus are people over the age of 50. Other mosquito-borne diseases that have been reported in Oklahoma include Chikungunya virus, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Yellow Fever. However, these diseases have been contracted by people who traveled to parts of the world where these diseases are prevalent and were infected there – they have not been contracted in Oklahoma.
Preventing Mosquito-borne Illness
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus. The best way to stay safe is to do what you can do avoid getting bitten. While no protective measure will completely prevent mosquito bites, there are things you can do to minimize the risk.
Avoid being outside at dawn and dusk. There are over 60 species of mosquitoes in Oklahoma, and different types carry different diseases, and they also are out and biting at different times of day. For the most part, the mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus are active in the early morning and evening hours (twilight time and darkness). It’s a good idea to limit outdoor activity during those times.
Wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Summer gets hot. But, if you’re going to be out during the peak biting times, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves, pants and socks. If you have a baby, use a mosquito net over an infant carrier to keep the pests out.
Use screens and make sure doors and windows are tightly sealed. The last place you want to be wary of mosquitoes is inside your home! Remind your family and visitors to close the doors behind them when they enter or exit (especially children) and make sure that window screens are free of holes so that the mosquitoes are kept outside!
Check your property for standing water. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. So, look for buckets, tarps, birdbaths, wading pools, pet bowls, hot tub covers, clogged rain gutters or even decorative pools or fountains. Dump the excess water from hot tub or pool covers, tarps or other places where water might collect. For wading pools and pet bowls, dump the water at the end of the day and replace it with fresh water for each use. Keep swimming pools and hot tubs well maintained. If you have a decorative pool, there are environmentally safe products that can be added to the water (“mosquito bits”) that use BTI or other chemicals to prevent mosquito larvae from maturing.
Use an effective insect repellent. Insect repellents carry their own risks when not used properly. The EPA has insect-repellent guidelines for safe application. In general, a repellent with 10% to 30% DEET, Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus will be most effective for preventing bites. Bear in mind that the higher concentration of the active ingredient just means that the repellent will be effective longer, not that it will work better. So, your best bet might be to apply frequently at lower levels of concentration. It’s safest to apply repellent to your clothes rather than direct skin, especially for children.
These preventive strategies will also protect you and your family from ticks and other pests. While there’s not much that will ensure that you won’t get any bites this summer, these tips should help to prevent illness from mosquitoes, with the added benefit of preventing the annoyance that comes with those itchy bites!