Mosquitoes bring about painful bites and itchy skin reactions, and cause an annoying buzzing sound. These insects also spread serious diseases to the human population. In fact, the American Mosquito Control Association says mosquitoes “cause more human suffering than any other organism.” Each year, more than a million people in the world die from mosquito-borne illnesses. In humans, mosquitoes cause malaria, chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and various forms of encephalitis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now includes the US on the list of countries where scientists have reported cases of chikungunya. Some Americans who traveled outside of the US, especially to the Caribbean, recently became infected with the chikungunya virus. Infection causes severe symptoms, including excruciating joint pain. In fact, the name chikungunya means “to become bent up” in the tribal language of the Makonde people in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
Mosquitoes can cause illness in other species, including cats, dogs, horses, foxes, birds, and more. Mosquito-borne illnesses include heartworm, La Crosse encephalitis, and Western Equine encephalitis. Eastern Equine encephalitis can spread from horses to humans.
Avoidance Is Best Practice
The best protection from mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid exposure to the insect. A combination of lifestyle choices, mosquito repellants, mosquito population control, and awareness of known mosquito-borne illnesses while traveling to foreign countries reduces the risk for exposure and illness.
Mosquitoes do not use blood as fuel for daily operations, and only a female mosquito will bite. She relies on this blood meal to develop her eggs, which she lays in pools of stagnant water. Female mosquitoes are more likely to congregate near these pools, so emptying even the smallest puddle reduces the risk for mosquito bites.
Be aware of peak exposure times. The best time of day to avoid mosquitoes is in the afternoon, when the heat of the day drives the mosquitoes to seek shade. Avoid outdoor activities in the early morning and evening when temperatures are cooler. Wear appropriate clothing. Wear light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Hikers should tuck in long-sleeved shirts, tuck long pants into socks, and replace open-toed sandals with shoes.
Mosquito Repellent Products
There are a huge variety of products available to repel mosquitoes. Many of the traditional spray-on products contain the chemical DEET, including Cutter and Off! Other products, such as Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus and Cutter Advanced, contain picaridin. Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart contain IR3535, a synthetic pesticide.
Technology provides new tools in the fight against mosquitoes and the illnesses they cause. A Kite Patch is a small, colorful sticker that contains a patent-pending formula that blocks a mosquito’s ability to track the wearer. Bug Band is a type of bracelet with built-in mosquito repellant. BugsAway is a line of clothing with bug repellant built right into the fabric. However, it’s important to note that each of these products contains pesticides that may cause illness in humans, especially with long-term exposure.
The Off! Clip-On mosquito repellant is a small device featuring a battery-powered fan that creates a dome of protection from mosquitoes for up to 12 hours. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation voiced its concerns that adults and children might misuse the devices as a personal fan or toy, increasing the risk for toxic effects associated with overexposure to the active ingredient in the device, metofluthrin.
While there are risks to every form of pesticide, exposure to mosquitoes greatly increases the risk for serious infectious diseases in humans and other species. The bare truth about mosquitoes is that they are the number one pest in a world full of pestilence.
- BugBand website. http://bugband.net/.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chikunguyna virus. CDC website. http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/geo/index.html.
- Exofficio.com website. http://www.exofficio.com/search/bugsaway.
- Kite website. http://www.kitepatch.com/.
- Mosquito-borne diseases. American Mosquito Control Association website. http://www.mosquito.org/mosquito-borne-diseases.
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Registration of OFF! Insect Repellent Fan (EPA Reg. No. 4822-542) and OFF! Insect Repellent Fan Refill (EPA Reg. No. 4822-542) which contain the New Active Ingredient Metofluthrin (Chemical Code 109709)(Company Number 4822). Cornell University Cooperative Extension website. http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/insect-mite/fenitrothion-methylpara/metofluthrin/metoflu_reg_0608.pdf.
- Off! Clip-On website. http://www.off.com/en-US/Products/Pages/OFF-Clip-On.aspx.