For the past 5 to 10 years, the most prominent disease-causing pest has been the tick. Tick-borne illnesses are serious, and we talk a lot about prevention and post-bite care. There are new reasons to take greater care against mosquitos and the viruses they spread, too. Here’s what you need to know:
There are three different mosquito-transmitted infections that occur in our area: West Nile Virus (WNV), Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV), and very recently, JCV (Jamestown Canyon Virus).
They are known as arboviruses. This group of viruses are transmitted to humans from a group of insects called arthropods.
We need to be on alert for these illnesses when mosquitos are most active, the summer and fall.
WNV is the most common. Apart from avoiding bites, there is no prevention for the disease and no treatment. Fortunately, most people who get infected do not become ill.
Only one in five develop symptoms, which include a fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage mild symptoms.
About 1 in 150 people develop serious illness as a result of WNV. People over 60 years of age are at greater risk as are those with cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants.
Severe WNV, EEEV, and JCV can cause conditions of the central nervous system, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).
Symptoms of these conditions include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis.
If you experience any of these call your doctor or seek emergency care. Your doctor can test for the diseases, and hospitals can provide supportive treatments, if necessary. They include intravenous fluids, pain medication, and nursing care.
EEEV is rare. Two Vermonters died of the disease in 2012. The state reacted by spraying for mosquitos and increasing testing and surveillance efforts for both WNV and EEEV, which continue today.
JCV is just moving into our area. One human case was discovered in New Hampshire last year. The virus has been detected in a mosquito in New Hampshire this season.
Stay indoors at dawn and dusk, the times when mosquitos are most active. Though mosquitos can bite at any time of day, especially in shaded or wooded areas.
Wear long sleeves and long pants in light colors, so insects are easier to spot. Tuck your pants into your socks. For babies, cover strollers and baby carriers in mosquito netting.
Wear repellant on skin not covered by clothing. Use the Environmental Protection Agency’s tool at https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you to find the right repellant for you.
Follow the label instructions. Do not apply to hands, eyes, mouth, or any open or irritated skin. Don’t spray on skin under clothing. Spray in your hand to apply repellant carefully to your face and the faces of children.
If you need both sunscreen and repellant, use a “bug and sun” product or apply sunscreen first followed by insect repellant.
The same gear spray that works to repel ticks, permethrin, also works against mosquitos.
If you get bitten anyway, treat the bites with anti-itch ointment. Itching and opening the skin can lead to infection.
PROTECT YOUR HOME
Use well-fitting screens in your open windows and doors. Repair holes to keep mosquitos outside.
Empty standing water from objects outside your home—like tires, toys, trash receptacles, and bird baths — weekly. Mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water.
Working to prevent mosquitos around our homes and to prevent bites, we can help the Vermont Department of Health limit the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and decrease their impact on our communities.