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Mosquito-borne Disease: Prevent Bites to Prevent Disease

Mosquitoes – Ugh! We’ve all encountered these annoying tiny insects whose very sound causes us to cringe.

Then there’s the irritating itch, followed by red bumps. Both are the result of an allergic reaction to the saliva of mosquitoes when they land and bite.

It’s not really a bite – the female mosquito pierces your skin using her proboscis, a narrow part of the mouth, in an effort to find a blood vessel that provides an adequate blood supply to drink from. Your body recognizes the invasion and responds by creating histamine.

Mosquitos aren’t hungry for your blood, per se: mosquitos need to feed on protein-rich meals, like your blood, to produce eggs and propagate their species.

What are the main concerns about mosquito bites?

Far more concerning than temporary discomfort is the various diseases that can be transmitted via mosquito bites. The World Health Organization says mosquitos are the greatest carriers of disease in the animal kingdom, causing millions of deaths around the world each year.

Malaria, West Nile virus, Dengue virus, Zika virus – these lead to deadly or disabling effects for humans, but they also transmit parasites and disease to dogs and horses.

A two-fold approach is essential to ensure mosquito control:

  1. Elimination of breeding areas
  2. Techniques to avoid getting mosquito bites in the first place.

What is malaria?

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite. The parasite is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. People who have malaria usually feel very sick, with a high fever and shaking chills. It’s treatable, but can be deadly.

What is West Nile virus?

West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States. It’s most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat it in people. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV do not feel sick. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.

What is Dengue?

Dengue viruses are spread to people through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Dengue is common in more than 100 countries around the world. Forty percent of the world’s population, about 3 billion people, live in areas with a risk of dengue.

Dengue is a huge problem for Filipinos. They’ve come up with many novel ways to combat the mosquito population, including catching mosquitoes using dinner plates smeared with cooking oil (they get a free kilo of rice for every 200 dead mosquitoes they turn in), releasing frogs in areas where insects proliferate, and the discharge of the so-called “mosquito fish” in riverside communities and areas where stagnant water collect.

What is Zika Virus?

Zika is a virus that’s spread mostly by mosquitoes. Most adults who get it have mild symptoms. But the Zika mosquito can cause serious problems for pregnant women and their babies. Zika has only recently come to the Americas, Caribbean, and Pacific.

What are specific characteristics that make certain people a mosquito magnet?

You may get more than your fair share of attention from mosquitoes. It’s not your imagination.

“One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes,” reports Jerry Butler, professor at the University of Florida. Mosquitoes need human blood to develop fertile eggs. And apparently, not just anyone’s will do.

Genetics account for much of the attraction. Elements of our body chemistry, when found in excess on the skin’s surface, make mosquitoes swarm closer.

“Any type of carbon dioxide is attractive, even over a long distance,” another researcher says. “Larger people give off more carbon dioxide, which is why mosquitoes typically prefer adults to small children. Pregnant women are at increased risk, as they produce a greater-than-normal amount of exhaled carbon dioxide. Movement and heat also attract mosquitoes.”

At outdoor gatherings, you may be better off relaxing than exerting yourself. Mosquitoes sense your movement and head toward you. When you pant, the smell of carbon dioxide from your heavy breathing brings them closer. Lactic acid from your sweat glands does also.

What are effective ways to avoid getting sick from viruses spread by mosquitoes?

It turns out that large-scale spraying or other public treatments may not be the most effective way to escape bites.

You reduce the risk of bites by wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts when outdoors. But mosquito repellents are essential, too.

“Using an insect repellent is one of the best ways you can protect yourself from Zika and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes,” says Harry Savage, chief of ecology and entomology activity at the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

In addition, everyone should vigilant to remove breeding areas for mosquitoes. Any standing water is a potential nursery for these pests, even very small receptacles!

Beyond the obvious pools of standing, stagnant water like wading pools or buckets, be sure to empty out saucers under outdoor plants, clean out birdbaths frequently, and unclog your rain gutters. Drying up areas of water will help kill mosquito eggs and larvae.

A Brazilian radio station’s unusual approach to repelling mosquitoes quickly grabbed a lot of attention, but sadly it turned out to be a bust.

One of the world’s top advertising awards went this year to a campaign in which a radio station broadcast ultrasound along with its programs to repel mosquitoes. But does it work? Definitely not, say scientists.

What are the most common mosquito repellents used?

Loads of different mosquito repellents are marketed each summer, but they’re not all created equal. Take a look at those that are chemical-based first, then we’ll consider repellents that are considered natural.

What are effective chemical-based repellents?

Effective mosquito repellents are often chemical-based. DEET, for example, has been around since 1957. It continues to be the chemical of choice used in repellents.

A researcher from Chapel Hill Dermatology reports that repellents with 23.8% DEET (most formulas contain between 10% and 30%) protect wearers for about five hours.

But how safe is it? It helps to know that “DEET has been in use for over 40 years and has a remarkable safety record. Only a few hospitalizations have been reported, mainly due to gross overuse,” a report on WebMD. “The American Academy of Pediatrics states that low concentrations of DEET (10% or less) are safe to use on infants over 2 months old.”

Picaridin is another repellent for mosquitoes, ticks, and flies. It’s a synthetic version of a repellent found in pepper plants. Maximum protection is provided in formulations with 20 percent picaridin. Spray versions protect for up to 12 hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and up to eight hours against flies; lotion formulations last for up to 14 hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and up to eight hours against flies.

You should also be aware of the differences between these two chemical formulations. Because they’re the most effective repellents, people often ask which is better. Here’s an expert’s comparison:

  • DEET: considered the gold standard in terms of its effectiveness. It’s been used and studied more than any other repellent in human history, though it must be handled carefully because it can damage plastics (think sunglasses, trekking pole grips, etc.)
  • Picaridin: Though it’s been around for fewer decades, its efficacy is considered comparable to DEET for mosquitoes and ticks, and it works better on flies. Picaridin also has minimal odor and no damaging effect on plastics and other synthetics.

What are some natural repellents?

Medical News Today suggests many natural repellents; here are 5 of the best:

1. Citronella – Dose for dose, citronella can be as effective as DEET initially. However, citronella oil evaporates quickly, meaning that it’s only effective for a short time. ( topical application of 100% citronella can provide complete protection against three types of mosquito for up to 120 minutes in a laboratory setting.) High concentrations of citronella can cause skin irritation. You can also purchase citronella candles

People traveling to areas where mosquitoes carry diseases may wish to use a more effective synthetic repellent than citronella.

2. Lemon eucalyptus – Lemon eucalyptus essential oil contains 85% citronella. It is a popular product in the cleaning and cosmetics industries due to its fresh scent.

The findings of both field and laboratory studies show that lemon eucalyptus oil can effectively protect against several species of malaria-carrying mosquito as well as the yellow fever mosquito.

One study found that a formula containing 32% lemon eucalyptus oil provided at least 95% protection from mosquitoes for 3 hours. However, it has a shorter protection time than DEET as it evaporates more quickly.

3. Clove – Aside from baking, cloves may also help prevent bothersome mosquito bites.

Researchers mixed clove essential oil with bases of olive and coconut oil, which volunteers then applied topically to their skin. The clove oil mixtures protected against yellow fever mosquitoes for up to 96 minutes.

Other research suggests that a component of cloves called methyl eugenol could be a carcinogen, but these claims require further research.

4. Peppermint – Peppermint may be another natural way to repel mosquitoes. The authors of a 2011 review concluded that high concentrations of peppermint essential oil are effective, but they could not find any research on lower concentrations.

A study in 2011 found that peppermint essential oil was effective against mosquito larvae and provided 100% protection against bites from adult yellow fever mosquitoes for up to 150 minutes.

5. Lemongrass – Lemongrass essential oil is another option for a natural mosquito repellent. In a 2015 study, researchers found that a combination of lemongrass essential oil and olive oil provided 98.8% protection against the southern house mosquito.

Other research found that topical application of lemongrass essential oil provided 74–95% protection for 2.5 hours against two types of mosquito during a field study.

Natural mosquito repellents that include the essential oils above are frequently available for sale. Researchers have found one commercial formula containing glycerin, lecithin, vanillin, coconut oil, geranium, and soybean oil has similar effects to DEET and can repel mosquitoes for up to 7 hours.

Repellents like these can be made at home by combining essential oils with water or carrier oils, such as coconut or soybean oil, to either use as a room spray or apply topically.

A few cautions about natural repellents:

  • Some people find that their skin reacts to essential oils, and they can also make the skin prone to sun damage, so it is important to do a patch test on a small area of skin first.
  • As some essential oils are only effective for a short time, it is best to reapply these formulations regularly, particularly after going in the water or sweating.

Are there plants that naturally repel mosquitoes?

Yes, several plants help. Homeowners may want to look into filling pots or flowerbeds with plantings that repel mosquitoes, such as lavender, citronella grass, thyme, rosemary, catnip, basil, and peppermint. Bee balm is another appealing choice – it attracts good bugs like bees and butterflies, but its crushed leaves repel other insects.

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