Besides being pests, mosquitoes can carry and transmit numerous diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that mosquitoes kill more than 1 million people a year through the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.
This year, newspapers and television warn us about the dangers of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease that shares many of the same symptoms as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis, and West Nile virus.
If you have any of the following symptoms and have been to a region where mosquitoes carry the virus, it would be wise to seek medical attention. The symptoms for the above diseases often include flu-like symptoms. They also may include high fever, chills, severe headaches, severe joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, pain behind the eyes, and loss of appetite.
Malaria is the 5th leading cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide (after respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis) according to the CDC.
Treatment of mosquito-borne diseases depends on many factors including the severity of the disease, the type of disease you have, and where you were when you were infected. Treatment also depends on your age, health, weight, and pregnancy status.
So why do some people appear to get bitten more than others?
Believe it or not, mosquitoes are picky eaters and choose whose blood they wish to suck. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes. If you are one of the lucky ones, you should consider using a mosquito repellent regularly to deter them. There are several key compounds that keep mosquitoes away.
1. DEET. In my research I have found DEET to be an effective mosquito repellent. DEET, which has been used since 1957, is available in different strengths, however a repellent with 25 percent DEET should be adequate to keep the insects away. A single application of DEET to your skin should offer 5 hours of protection from mosquitoes.
2. Permethrin. If you don’t like the idea of putting DEET on your skin, consider spraying your clothing with the chemical insecticide permethrin. One treatment will last up to six washings or six weeks before clothing has to be treated again. One such product is Sawyer Permethrin.
According to its Web site, “Permethrin is odorless when dry. During the drying process it tightly bonds with the fibers of the treated garment. It will not stain or damage clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces, or any of your gear.”
3. Use both. The combination of DEET on your skin and permethrin on your clothing is the best way to repel mosquitoes and other biting, blood-sucking and disease-carrying insects. This combination of protections is far greater than either alone.
4. Natural alternative. For those who prefer a more natural product, I have good news. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a plant- based repellent that is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In two recent scientific publications, when oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the U.S., it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.
The two-legged crew are not the only ones at risk. Mosquitoes can transmit several diseases and parasites that can harm dogs and horses, including heartworm, West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis. If you are traveling with pets, check with your veterinarian and advise them where pets may be visiting to ensure they are protected when possible.
Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.