The Rise of Mosquito-Borne Illnesses in the United States

Mosquito-borne diseases are on the rise within the United States. In 2016, more than 47,000 cases were reported, which is almost 10 times higher than those reported in 2004 (4,858). The most common viruses include:

  • West Nile Virus: Spread by mosquito bites, West Nile is prevalent from summer through fall months. There are no vaccines or medications available to treat the virus, but most people infected do not feel symptoms. One in five develop a fever and other symptoms, and one in 150 infected people (less than 1%) develop serious, sometimes fatal illness.
  • Dengue: More common in tropical areas, dengue fever is caused by other mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile and yellow fever. Most cases in the U.S. occur in people who were traveling abroad, but there is higher risk for those living along the Texas-Mexico border. Dengue is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito and typically results in flu-like symptoms four to six days after infection. There are no vaccines or medications to prevent or treat dengue.
  • Zika Virus: This virus is also spread through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito and can be very dangerous for women who are pregnant as it can be passed along to the fetus. It can also be sexually transmitted. Many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or it will be mild. Although media reports regarding Zika have died down, cases have been reported in Florida and Texas. Higher risk of contracting the virus lies in Mexico, The Pacific Islands, parts of Central & South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and parts of Asia. Again, no vaccines or medications are available to prevent and treat Zika.

What can you do to protect yourself?

While there are still no vaccines or medications that help specifically prevent or treat any of the viruses listed above, there are ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting any of these diseases. Prevent mosquito bites by:

  • Using an EPA-registered insect repellent: Before you head out for a camping trip or hike in the woods, be sure to use a mosquito and tick repellent.
  • Covering up: It’s tempting to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts especially during the summer time, but it’s important to keep your body covered if you’ll be walking through tall grasses or swampy areas. Wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt will help better protect you from getting bit by a potentially infected mosquito.
  • Using a mosquito net: If you are camping outdoors, sleep under a mosquito bed net to protect yourself from getting bit.
  • Removing any standing water: Mosquitoes lay their eggs near water, so you should always try to remove any standing water near your home to prevent it from becoming a breeding ground. This includes any buckets, watering cans, toys, pools, or trash cans that may hold water.

If you have been bit by a mosquito and are experiencing any abnormal symptoms, contact your doctor or visit an urgent care center near you for further consultation.  

Photo credit: Pixabay.com

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