Stop Mosquitoes to Prevent West Nile Virus
The summer is here! It’s time for laying by the ocean, lounging by the pool, enjoying back yard barbecues and the warm summer sun.
Around this time of year, most doctors spill a fair bit of ink warning about the dangers of too much sun exposure. But there’s a growing warm-weather problem that could be a real danger.
Bug bites are one of the necessary evils of summer time recreation. More often than not, mosquito bites are just a minor nuisance. But a growing number of people are contracting dangerous bug-borne diseases.
West Nile virus is perhaps the best-known mosquito-related infection. And it can be challenging to diagnose, partially because it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop. That’s long after the mosquito bite has disappeared.
Some people experience no symptoms at all, while others develop flu-like symptoms — fever, headache, fatigue, rash, and joint aches and pains.
A small number of unlucky souls will develop the “neuroinvasive” form of West Nile where the virus infects the brain.
This life-threatening form of the virus can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord) or encephalitis (brain inflammation).
Symptoms include paralysis, brain swelling, permanent nerve damage, and about 10 percent (especially young children and the elderly) will die.
Diagnosing West Nile is a complicated process, and right now, there’s no remedy. Doctors simply recommend plenty of fluids, rest, and pain relievers.
Sadly, West Nile is just one among many dangerous mosquito-borne illnesses.
Another bug-borne virus – Chikungunya (CHIKV) – is moving quickly from South America and the Caribbean into Florida…and its widespread presence throughout the U.S. is imminent.
The first symptom of CHIKV is fever, usually beginning about a week after the bite. Then comes nearly unbearable joint pain, fatigue, rashes, headache, and muscle aches.
CHIKV is rarely fatal. But the crippling symptoms can linger for months, even years. And like West Nile virus, there is no cure or vaccination to prevent the disease.
Fortunately, neither one is spread by human contact, only via bites from infected mosquitos.
The Asian tiger mosquito, a smaller relative of the common mosquito, is the primary carrier of Chikungunya. Only one-quarter inch long, this daytime feeder is not only harder to see, but it can easily slip through even a tiny hole in your window screen.
Both West Nile and CHIKV were first identified in Africa. West Nile hit the U.S. in New York in 1999. Since then, it has spread all across the continental U.S.
CHIKV only recently began expanding its territory. In 2006, there were fewer than 65 cases of CHIKV a year in the U.S, most of them travelers who’d been bitten on vacation.
But now the number of cases in the Caribbean has exploded, raising the specter of an epidemic in this country. In fact, French researchers predict that in just one decade, CHIKV will be a worldwide concern.
With warmer winters, heavy rains, and earlier springs, health authorities expect to see growing numbers of mosquitoes continuing to spread both diseases.
And since mosquitoes can pick up the virus from biting infected birds or small mammals, if you see an increase in dead birds or small animals like gophers or squirrels, notify your local public health department.
I’m not trying to sound too alarmist. Although these diseases are a genuine concern, I do hope you’ll enjoy some time outdoors this summer.
Here are six suggestions to keep you safe from summer bugs:
- Wear insect repellent, but avoid those containing permethrin or DEET, which can harm your health. Instead, look for a product that contains neem oil, a safer, natural insecticide.
- It’s harder for insects to bite when the air is moving, so set up fans near doors to keep them out of your house and off your skin.
- Keep your body covered outdoors, with long pants and long sleeves.
- Drain any standing water near your home. Remove water from gutters, birdbaths, tires, buckets, and rain barrels. Even a small container can be home to hundreds of mosquito larvae.
- Make sure all your windows are covered by screens and repair any holes that could let insects in.
- Take 300 mg of enteric-coated garlic supplements twice a day or eat fresh garlic daily to make yourself less appealing to mosquitoes. Since garlic can thin the blood, anyone taking blood thinners (Warfarin, Coumadin, Plavix) should discuss taking garlic with a physician.
Some of my patients have asked about spraying the yard with insecticide. I don’t recommend it. Yes, it will eliminate the mosquitoes, but only for a few hours.
Insecticides also expose you and your family to damaging toxins, linked to Parkinson’s disease and other health issues. And the insecticides also kill beneficial insects in your yard, things like ladybugs, butterflies, and earthworms.
As always, I urge you to protect yourself by maintaining a healthy immune system. So please review those suggestions from earlier newsletters, and make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay strong and healthy this summer.