Common Mosquito Borne Diseases and how to Prevent Them
It is hard to believe that even in drought-ridden areas mosquitos can be a big problem. Once you educate yourself on how little water is needed, you’ll understand that everywhere has the potential to be a mosquito breeding ground. They are extremely hardy insects – dating back 210 million years. Mosquitos become active once the temperature rises consistently above 50 degrees during dawn and dusk until the 1st freeze.
Mosquitos literally only need a few drops of standing water to reproduce. A forgotten bottle cap, a plant saucer – anything capable of holding any water at all is a breeding ground. Condensation collected and not disturbed for 1-2 weeks is also considered a perfect location. In mosquito-land, there is only one job – reproduce. That tiny bit of water allows that to happen. Some species lay their eggs on moist soil prone to flooding in anticipation of the next rise in water. These eggs can last through the winter until spring/summer rains cover them up. If the rain doesn’t come, the eggs can last up to a year.
Females are the biting insect we all know. They require plant nectar or sweet juice to maintain energy, but the protein in mammal blood is required to be able to reproduce. They cannot lay eggs unless they have had a blood meal. Females can live a few months if pristine conditions exist (humidity, temperature, access to blood). Once they have mated with a male once, they lay eggs every 3 days or so – up to 500 eggs in their short lifetime. Males live less than a week and feed only on plant nectar and sweet juices. Their only role is to mate with females.
Mosquitos – Mere Annoyance?
Anyone who has been the recipient of a mosquito bite or spent their evening swatting one away knows how annoying the insect can be. But beyond the red, itchy inflammation, disease is a huge concern. Mosquito-borne diseases kill over one million humans worldwide annually, plus any number of dogs and horses. Mosquitos themselves are immune to disease, but act as a carrier. Once they feed off an infected bird or animal, they transfer the infection to their next meal. The next mosquito to feed off that infected mammal continues the cycle, and the disease spreads.
Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Humans
Malaria: Malaria has been around since 1700 BC and is still very active. Symptoms include recurring shaking chills, high fever and sweating. Additional symptoms can include headache, vomiting and diarrhea. One million plus die and 300-500 cases are still being reported every year. It is estimated that a child dies from malaria every 40 seconds.
Chikungunya Virus: The primary symptom is sudden onset of really bad joint pain that is debilitating and may last for several weeks. The only treatment is pain medication until the symptoms resolve.
Dengue: Symptoms of dengue fever include severe joint and muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, exhaustion, and rash. “The presence of fever, rash, and headache (the “dengue triad”) is characteristic of dengue fever”.6 Things have gone from bad to worse if you develop Dengue hemorrhagic fever because it can cause severe bleeding, a sudden drop in blood pressure (shock) and death.
Yellow Fever: Yellow Fever is 400 years old and specialized – it only occurs in African and the Americas’ tropical areas. At the onset of the disease, there may be flu-like symptoms. Should the disease progress, symptoms such as fever, vomiting, epigastric pain and organ issues (heart, liver, kidney) can manifest.
Encephalitis: St. Louis, LaCrosse and Eastern Equine are types of encephalitis. Symptoms can be non-existent, mild and flu-like, or progress to the point of death. Just a few include confusion, convulsions, fever, headache, paralysis, neck stiffness, problems with hearing or speech and loss of consciousness. LaCrosse has around 90 cases per year east of the Mississippi. Eastern Equine Encephalitis affects mammals’ (including human) central nervous system. A vaccine is available for horses only.
West Nile: Symptoms can be non-existent or mild and flu-like. When the virus does progress, inflammation of the spinal cord or brain (encephalitis) may occur and show the same symptoms as St. Louis or LaCrosse Encephalitis.
Zika Virus: A term that strikes terror in expectant parents, Zika began in central Africa, spread quickly and as of 2014 is in 35 countries in the Americas. It is known to cause miscarriages or microcephaly and other neurological disorders in forming fetuses. Some patients will suffer no symptoms at all, while others may notice mild fever, rash and muscle pain. More severe symptoms include headache, conjunctivitis and an overall feeling of discomfort.
Mosquito-Borne Diseases – Animal
Canine Heartworm: Introduced by mosquitos, heartworm is a life-threatening disease caused by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of dogs and other mammals. Worms can affect a dog’s health even after the worms are gone, so prevention is the best plan of action. A veterinarian will decide what treatment is best for each animal. Symptoms that may be apparent are fatigue, a mild president cough, decreased appetite and weight loss. As the disease progresses, a swollen belly may occur due to excess fluid in the abdomen.
Beyond store-bought insect repellent or bringing in the professionals, there are a few other repelling methods you might want to consider:
• Eliminate Standing Water
• Oil on water- “Baby” mosquitos live in the water but need oxygen. By placing a drop of oil on the surface of standing water, they are unable to breath and will die.
• Maintain your home and environment- When was the last time you checked your gutters? If they don’t drain properly, tiny puddles of standing water can result and mosquitos will move right in.
All mosquitos feed on plant nectar. During the warmth of the day mosquitos can be found in tall grasses, shrubs and bushes because the greenery provides a cool, damp place to wait for cooler temperatures of evening. Keep your yard neat and tidy.
• Helpful plants- Citronella, catnip, lavender, marigolds, basil and peppermint act as natural repellents and make your garden look and smell wonderful to everyone but mosquitos.
• Avoid floral scents- Just as the scent of a flower leads a mosquito to meal, so does floral perfume. A less flowery scent during the warm months may result in less bites.
• Be a bright light in the dark- Wear bright, light colors and avoid dark colors. Mosquitos may confuse the dark color with the fur of an animal.
• Drink your beer inside- For some reason mosquitos prefer people who drink beer – sugar content perhaps? Enjoy your beverage inside.
• Stay Inside- One of the best ways to avoid the possibility of giving a mosquito the chance to lay eggs or infect you by feasting on your blood is to stay inside during the dusk and dawn hours. Keep windows closed and the air on, or maintain good window and door screens. If they can’t get to you, they can’t make a meal of you.
When we were little, mosquito bites were just a part of summer. Now, with life-threatening diseases we must maintain our guard. You may have heard someone say “I swear; mosquitos just love me!” If you are pregnant, Type O (blood) or are running an elevated temperature, you just might be right! Studies have shown these people are prone to more bites than average. If you are in this group, be extra careful.
Article written by: Casey Casort