By Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group
I have lots of fond summertime memories from my childhood. We could play outside really late, Hoodsie® Cups were allowed even if it wasn’t a birthday party, and mosquito bites made me scratch so much I got the evil eye from my mother because I was so annoying. That was the extent of thought anyone gave to bug bites. So what has changed? Playing tag until dark has been replaced with my commuter rail commute and Hoodsie® Cups are too hard to find in the supermarket these days. But the biggest change is that now if I get a mosquito bite it doesn’t itch so much as cause anxiety.
Mosquitos are more than annoying. They potentially carry serious and life threatening disease. We all have to try harder to avoid being bitten. The best way to avoid bug bites and the possible illness (as well as the associated anxiety they may cause), is being informed about the recent facts concerning mosquitoes. What you need to know about illnesses spread by mosquitoes:
- West Nile Virus (WNV): This is a virus that often causes no symptoms. It is most common between the months of June and September, but people are at risk until the first frost.
- Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEE): EEE is a rare and severe mosquito transmitted virus that carries a 33% mortality rate. EEE may have no symptoms, but in some cases it can cause serious inflammation of the brain that can lead to coma. EEE is also present until the first frost.
- Chikungunya: This is a virus caused by mosquito bites that always causes some sort of symptoms; usually fever, joint pain and sometimes a rash. Chikungunya can affect people of all ages but the symptoms can be greater in the very young, the elderly, or those with chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Treatment is possible and people usually feel better within a couple of weeks. This illness has not been found in mosquitoes in the United States BUT it has been seen in many other countries including the Caribbean. People who travel to infected areas can be bitten and develop illness when they return home.
- Zika Virus: Zika has been front page news over the last few months, but it was first identified in 1947 in monkeys in Uganda. It is now frequently mentioned by the media as it has been accompanied by a rise in cases of microcephaly (a birth defect that affects the growth of the brain that is spread to the fetus during pregnancy and possibly at birth) and Guillain-Barré syndrome in South America. This past week CDC announced that infected mosquitoes have been located in parts of Miami, Florida and published guidelines for travelers to the area. Visit the CDC website for more information about Zika. The possible symptoms are very nonspecific, such as feeling tired, fever, rash, and conjunctivitis. People may be infected and not know it. There are tests available to see if Zika is the cause of the illness, but they are performed under very specialized circumstances. Ask your healthcare provider for more information. There is no treatment for Zika, but the symptoms can be treated as needed.
The best treatment for any of these viruses is PREVENTION:
- Mosquitoes breed in moist spaces. It is important to remove standing water such as watering cans, wading pools, or rubbish cans.
- Mosquitoes are known to be most active at dawn and dusk. However, Zika infected mosquitoes are mostly DAYTIME biters. It is still the best idea to make sure that window screens are intact. Close windows and use air conditioning if possible.
- Wear protective clothing (e.g. long sleeves, pant legs tucked into socks) when outside during potential peak activity hours.
- Use mosquito repellent. Products that include DEET, picaridin, oil of eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol are appropriate to use. It is important to read the directions as many of these products are harmful to infants and children.
- Zika presents another challenge as far as prevention. Zika can be spread through sexual activity, so it is necessary to observe safe sex practices if there is any chance of infection.
This is a beautiful time of year in the Northeast and sooner than I care to think about, I’ll be worrying about ice dams. I hope that you will all join me and go outside and play. Just don’t forget to add the right clothing and some bug spray in your backpack.