Mosquito bites are more serious than most people know

Barbara Hootman

It’s mosquito season again, and the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services has advised area campgrounds about how to lessen the possibility of mosquito bites.

“We shared the information with area camps in the desire to create a shield of protection for our campers and to educate and inform everyone about how to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses,” said Sue Ellen Morrison, the department’s disease control lead nurse.

“The most important point,” she said, “is to avoid a mosquito breeding ground in your community by ‘tipping and tossing’ standing water because mosquitoes need only a cap full of water to breed. They also do not travel far from their breeding areas, so it is important to remove standing water from around homes and in communities.”

Mosquito bites are not only a nuisance, but they are a health hazard. They are a public enemy in spreading infectious diseases, causing millions of deaths worldwide yearly.

“Of all disease-transmitting insects, the mosquito is the greatest menace of all,” the World Health Organization states on its website. “It earned the label by its ability to spread deadly diseases through its bite.”

The buzz of mosquito wings can bring even a sound sleeper to attention in his bedroom. Mosquitos can ruin a backyard cookout far quicker than armies of ants.

Although there are more than 3,000 mosquito species, there are only three that cause the spread of human diseases. Anopheles mosquitoes carry malaria and can transmit encephalitis. The Culex mosquitoes carry encephalitis and the West Nile virus. The Aedes mosquitoes, of which the Asian tiger is a member, carries yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis — all infectious diseases that can kill humans.

La Cross Encephalitis is the most commonly diagnosed mosquito disease in North and South Carolina.

Mosquitoes find their victims by detecting exhaled carbon dioxide, body odors, temperature and movement. The females are out for blood — only they have the mouth parts necessary for sucking blood. They use the blood as a source of protein for their eggs.

The cloud of mosquitoes that you find in vegetable and flower gardens has one benefit. They feed birds, bats, dragonflies and frogs. Usually mosquitoes prefer horses, cattle, birds and dogs to humans. When sucking blood from a human, they prefer some victims more than others. Men are bitten more often than women; the overweight and those with type O blood are prime choices.

Preventing mosquito bites makes more sense than trying to treat them.

Symptoms of bites include soft bumps on the skin that develop into pink, red and itchy ones. Symptoms may not be immediate and can occur up to 48 hours after the bite. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, contact with a mosquito must be six seconds or longer to produce a reaction. The insects are master dodgers of quick slaps.

Dr. Brad Rachman at The Rachman Clinic in Black Mountain recommends using natural mosquito repellant to protect against bites.

“Mosquitoes can be hosts to a number of serious blood-borne organisms, some of them deadly,” he said. “Initial symptoms sometimes mimic a simple viral infection and can include headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting and weakness. Adequate protection for adults and especially children is necessary when traveling into heavily wooded areas and those containing stagnant water sources.

“Chemical-based repellents, especially DEET, are very effective. However many parents are rightfully concerned about using these powerful synthetics on their child’s skin. Botanical-based repellents such as eucalyptus and tea tree oil can offer similar protection without the toxicity, providing they are reapplied frequently.”

Lu Ann Wilks uses only natural insect repellents on her 16-month-old granddaughter Savannah’s skin.

“My daughter, Savannah’s mother, prefers to use only natural insect repellent, because the chemical-based ones can cause brain and central nervous system damage in some young children,” Wilks said. “Savannah is so young that we want to be as safe as we can be and still keep the mosquitoes from biting her as much as possible.”

The Buncombe County health department recommends five steps that everyone should take to prevent mosquito bites.

Use repellent. When outside, use insect repellant containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin as well as on clothing (mosquitoes can bite through thin cloth). Perimethrin is a repellent-insecticide that can be applied to clothing and will provide excellent protection through multiple washes. You can treat the clothes yourself, or buy pre-treated clothes. Apply other repellent to exposed skin.

Wear protective clothing. When weather permits wear long sleeves, pants, and socks.

Avoid peak biting hours between dawn and dusk. Avoid outdoor activity when mosquitoes are active.

Install and repair screens. Have secure, intact screens on windows and doors.

Prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs close to your house. They lay eggs in a small amount of water. Destroy mosquito breeding areas by emptying standing water from flower pots, tree holes, buckets, barrels and tires. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths frequently. Drill holes in tire swings allowing water to drain. Empty childrens’ wading pools and store on sides after use.

Remember — “tip and toss” standing water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding close to you.