Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.
According to the Mosquito Control Association, mosquitoes have the potential to cause more harm to humans than any other organism. It is estimated that over a million people around the world die as a result of mosquito-borne diseases each year. Everyone knows about malaria, which claims the largest number of lives. However, at present, malaria is not a major killer in America, though in 2003 there was a small outbreak of malaria in Florida. Of more importance to Americans is the disease caused by the West Nile virus.
This virus is carried by wild birds and transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It is easy to see how this virus can spread rapidly. It only took five years for the West Nile virus to travel from one coast to the other.
“Since 1999, we’ve had epidemics every single year,” said Lyle Petersen, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division in Fort Collins, Colo., on vector-borne viral and bacterial diseases. This virus has not followed the traditional pattern seen with similar viruses. Typically, new viruses carried by a host (vector) such as mosquitoes land in a friendly environment and cause an epidemic there before disappearing for a while. However, the West Nile virus has become endemic in the entire United States of America. One reason for this phenomenon may be that many different mosquito species carry the virus; at least 60 species have been documented as of spring 2007.
While West Nile fever commonly causes a self-limited viral illness, many have had more severe disease. Approximately 10,000 cases of encephalitis (infection of the brain) or meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain) have been reported since 1999, and close to 1,000 people have died from this virus.
Another mosquito-borne virus, called Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), has a much more grave prognosis. This virus kills close to one-third of humans it infects (though it is much more rare than West Nile virus). Eastern equine encephalitis, as its name implies, is a virus mainly seen in the eastern half of the United States of America. Equine was added to its name because it can also infect horses. The counterpart of EEE seen on the west coast is, you guessed it, western equine encephalitis.
The list of diseases that can be transmitted by mosquitoes goes on and on. However, the bottom line is that everyone should exercise caution and protect herself as much as possible against these disease-ridden insects.
1. Use a mosquito repellant, preferably one that contains DEET. If you apply sunscreen as well, put this on first and put the mosquito repellant over the sunscreen. You may even apply some insect repellants safely to clothing. (Read the labels.)
2. Avoid areas with standing water since mosquitoes congregate in those areas. If you have standing water in your backyard, get rid of it.
3. Consider placing a mosquito net around your outdoors deck or patio.
4. Cover your body when you go outdoors (wear long-sleeved shirts, hats, etc).