You may not pay much attention to mosquitoes until you or your child gets bitten by one, but there are plenty of reasons to try your best to prevent these itchy bites.
There are more than 170 known mosquito species in the United States. While most mosquito bites cause nothing more than minor discomfort, mosquitoes can be carriers of dangerous and even deadly diseases. West Nile disease, Zika and encephalitis can all be spread to human beings by infected mosquitoes.
West Nile disease: Only about one in five people who contract West Nile will have any symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they will usually be a rash or flu-like in nature, causing fever and overall exhaustion. Some people may develop a more serious infection that can cause brain swelling or meningitis, which can be deadly.
Zika: The most common symptoms of the Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis. The Zika illness is usually mild, with symptoms clearing up in about a week, but in severe cases, hospitalization may be required.
Zika is known to be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, as it can cause birth defects in their babies. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, the CDC recommends that you avoid traveling to any area where Zika is spreading. Zika can also be sexually transmitted.
Encephalitis: Some mosquitoes carry a virus that can cause inflammation around the brain and spinal cord. There are different types of encephalitis specific to certain regions.
How to avoid mosquito bites
Mosquitoes thrive in warm and hot conditions, and “mosquito season” typically lasts as long as temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Because mosquito activity is so closely linked to temperature, mosquito season can vary greatly from one region to another and even from one year to the next.
Goshen Physicians Family Medicine & Urgent Care offers the following tips to help you prevent mosquito infestations and bites:
Mosquito-proof your property: Remove any objects that could hold standing water, such as flower pots, bird feeders, old tires and buckets. Fill in ditches and other low-lying areas that may also collect standing water. Clean clogged gutters and remove any leaves and other debris that may have gathered during the winter. Keep your swimming pool clean. Repair damaged or ineffective window screens and cracks and leaks in your home’s foundation and exterior walls to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home. Use citronella candles in your outdoor living areas.
Protect your body: Use mosquito repellent products. Most effective repellents include one of three active ingredients: DEET, Icaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil. DEET may offer the longest-lasting protection, but it should be used with caution and it isn’t safe for infants under two months. Children should not use products containing DEET or Icaridin on their hands or faces. Lemon eucalyptus oil should not be used for children under three years.
Weather permitting, cover as much of your body as possible with light-colored clothing. Long sleeves and pants, socks and closed-toe shoes and a hat that protects your ears and neck are recommended. If you have a history of severe reactions to mosquito bites, consider taking a non-drowsy over-the-counter antihistamine when you know you may be exposed to mosquitoes.
Limit your exposure: Avoid outdoor activities at dusk or during early morning hours, when mosquitoes are most active. Use mosquito netting over strollers and cribs or when camping or sleeping outdoors.
If you’ve been exposed to mosquitoes and begin experiencing any symptoms of illness such as sore throat, rash or fever, seek care from your primary care provider. If symptoms such as confusion, seizures or weakness appear, go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care clinic.