Along with the joys of summer, comes rising temperatures and humidity. It’s the perfect playground for mosquitoes, who are all too happy to crash-land into your outing or picnic. Now is a good time to review the dangers of the diseases these insects carry, provide some updates, and know how to protect yourself and your family, especially with a long mosquito season, from summer right into fall.
Besides that annoying itch that comes with mosquito bites, mosquitoes carry two serious viruses you’ll want to avoid:
The West Nile virus may cause sickness, especially in people over 50, and in those with compromised immune systems. Fever, head and body aches, diarrhea, joint pain, rash, and vomiting are common. Fatigue and weakness can last for months. But about eight out of 10 people infected with West Nile may feel no symptoms at all. Others can develop serious central nervous system illnesses.
The Zika virus can bring on conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes), fever, joint pain, and rashes. In addition to infection from a mosquito’s bite, Zika can also be transmitted through sex and cause serious birth defects, so use condoms, or refrain from sex if you have the virus. While incidences of Zika outbreaks did start declining in 2017, you still need to protect yourself and your family.
Don’t be shy about applying insect repellent, covering up, and staying away from ponds, swamps, and wooded areas, during the day, and at night, especially at dusk:
- Use bug spray or lotion containing DEET or 20 percent picaridin on exposed, unbroken skin (DEET lasts longer). Don’t use these near food. Wash off at the end of the day.
- Ask your doctor what repellents they recommend for kids. Don’t let kids apply it themselves! Repellents also shouldn’t be used on children under two months old.
- Cover exposed skin. Wear hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks. (You can still stay cool by choosing light-colored fabrics, like cotton, that “breathe.”)
- Don’t wear perfume or cologne. Scents attract bugs.
- Some natural plants help repel mosquitoes around the patio or deck. Basil, lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and sage can also do double-duty in cooking!
- Avoid the grass. Eat at a table, or bring portable, fold-up chairs or stools.
- Keep food and drinks covered.
- Remove any standing water outside, where mosquitoes could lay eggs.
- Clean outdoor items like birdbaths, buckets, planters, and storage containers once a week. (Toss them if you need to do so.)
- Keep windows and doors closed. Repair window screens. Use air conditioning, if possible.
- Don’t scratch the bite site! Instead, apply soothing hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.
The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Travelers’ Health section posts up-to-date travel information on the Zika and West Nile viruses for both the U.S., and abroad. Remember: Both West Nile and Zika are serious illnesses, with no vaccines available. If you’ve been bitten by a mosquito and have any symptoms, see your doctor ASAP.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano
Sources include: www.cdc.gov