Summer means more time for outdoor fun, but it also means more opportunities for exposure to mosquitoes. These tiny insects are more than an annoying nuisance. They transmit several diseases, some of which can be dangerous, even fatal. Across the United States, communities institute mosquito-control programs to protect residents against such illnesses. A look at some of the diseases that are caused by mosquito bites shows how important these programs can be.
Originally from Central Africa, the Zika virus has spread from islands in the Caribbean to the southern areas of the United States. The mosquito transmits the virus through its bite, but people can also spread it through sexual contact. Zika is particularly dangerous for pregnant women because the virus can adversely affect fetal development. Community agencies have made aggressive efforts to educate the public about removing containers that mosquitoes can use as breeding grounds. The conscientious use of mosquito repellent and the use of screens on doors and windows can help to prevent bites that transmit the disease.
West Nile Virus made its way from Africa to Europe, and then to the United States. Transmission goes from infected birds to mosquitoes, and then to mammals, such as horses and humans. It produces symptoms like an extended case of the flu. However, some types of West Nile Virus can result in severe brain and nervous system damage, the virus has been responsible for deaths in the US.
Birds that contract the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEEV) transmit it to mosquitoes, which in turn bite and infect horses and humans. The virus causes an infection of the brain, and the symptoms, which include severe headaches, chills, and vomiting, can result in seizures and coma. There is no established treatment for the disease. Similarly, Western Equine Encephalitis, which occurs west of the Mississippi, also is transmitted by mosquitoes exposed to infected birds.
Not only are people vulnerable to mosquito bites, but dogs can be affected too. Mosquito larvae plant into the animal, where they mature into adult worms and migrate through the dog’s bloodstream to the heart. As the worms reproduce in high numbers, the animal sickens and grows weaker. Treatment is available, but it is expensive and is not always successful.
All 50 states have reported cases of heartworm, which can be transmitted by many kinds of mosquitoes. You can protect your dog by providing heartworm prevention medication available through your veterinarian.
You can help to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases by removing open containers and anything else that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. You can also protect your family against these diseases by using insect repellent whenever they spend time outdoors. These measures can help to ensure you minimize the risk of acquiring these diseases.