Although they are small and far from intimidating, mosquitoes are actually one of the deadliest creatures on earth. The World Health Organization estimates that over 1 million people die every year due to mosquito-borne diseases.1 Malaria is the leading cause of death from mosquitoes at nearly 500,000 annually, but there are many other diseases that also impact the lives of people across the globe. Malaria is not spread in the United States, but viruses like West Nile, Zika, and chikungunya still make mosquito control extremely important.
West Nile Virus
West Nile is the most important disease spread by mosquitoes in the United States. Although only 1 in 5 people actually develop symptoms, there can be some serious side effects for those who do. West Nile is transmitted from birds (like crows and jays) to mosquitoes, and then to humans. The southern house mosquito (culex quinquefasciatus) is believed to be the one mostly responsible for West Nile. These mosquitoes are most active from summer to fall. Symptoms of West Nile virus include: headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. Less than 1% of people also develop serious neurologic complications like encephalitis and meningitis.
The Zika virus rarely causes death or serious illness, but researchers recently discovered that Zika can cause severe birth defects to unborn babies if the mother is infected during pregnancy. This has led states to put out more information about the virus than ever before in an attempt to slow the occurrence of this disease. Zika is mainly spread by the bite of an infected aedes aegypti or aedes albopictus mosquito. These mosquitoes are active both day and night, so precautions should always be taken when enjoying the outdoors. Zika has also been shown to pass through sexual activity. Symptoms of Zika include: fever, rash, joint pain, red itchy eyes, and head and muscle aches. Unborn children of women affected by Zika can suffer microcephaly (small head), brain damage, and even death. Zika is more common in places like Mexico and Latin America, so most U.S. cases are travel related. Recently, warm areas in the southern states have begun seeing cases originating here at home.
Scientists have calculated that over 40% of the world’s population is at risk of contracting dengue fever. While very common in other parts of the world, dengue fever is still rare in the United States. The majority of our cases are still linked to travel, but the extreme southern parts of Texas and areas of the Gulf Coast are home to the mosquitoes that are the main cause of dengue. Symptoms of dengue range from mild to severe and may include: fever, nausea, rash, aches, pain behind the eyes, shock, internal bleeding, vomiting, and death.
Cases of chikungunya in the United States are also mostly linked to travel, but in 2016 the first Texas-acquired case was reported. It is relatively common in areas of the Latin America and the Caribbean, so care should be taken during travel and for citizens in the southern states. Symptoms of chikungunya may include: fever, joint pain, headache, rash, joint swelling, and more. Newborns, the elderly, and people with high blood pressures, diabetes, and heart disease are most at risk.
These diseases can be scary, but there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and your family. These methods of prevention fall into two main categories: preventing breeding grounds around your property and protecting yourself while traveling or outdoors. Here are some important things you can do to prevent mosquito bites and mosquito borne diseases:
- Do not allow standing water around your home: Empty out pots, toys, debris, bird feeders, tires, or any other container that may allow standing water where mosquitoes breed
- If you have a pond, make sure that it has an aerator or contains fish that will eat the mosquitoes
- Seal the outside of your home and ensure that window screens are intact
- Use mosquito control products around your property
- When in the outdoors, use an insect repellent that includes DEET, picaridin, or other EPA approved substances
- Dress appropriately by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and close toed shoes
- Consider buying or using clothing and other outdoor gear that is treated with permethrin
- When traveling to especially dangerous areas, use a mosquito net along with all other outdoor precautions
- Avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active
Harris home pest control products can help you take back control of your property. Whether it is mosquitoes, roaches, ants, rodents, etc. Harris is the best name in DIY pest control. For more information, check out Mosquitoes: The Ultimate Guide.