Fighting Mosquito-Borne Viruses
For most of us, mosquito bites are as much a part of summer as backyard barbecues. But bites from these bugs can be more than a mere annoyance. They could make you very sick. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) emphasizes that whether you’re staying at home or traveling within the U.S. or abroad, you’re facing the risk of a mosquito-borne virus. Here, agency experts tell you what you need to know about the diseases you can get from these pests:
West Nile Virus (WNV)
Mosquitoes that spread WNV, the most common mosquito-borne virus, bite from dusk to dawn. There are no medications or treatments, but most people infected with the virus show no symptoms, the CDC says. One in five people develop a fever, but less than one percent of people develop serious and even fatal illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis (swelling of the brain or surrounding tissues). In 2014, 48 states and the District of Columbia reported over 2,200 cases of WNV.
Chikungunya, a virus that occurs most frequently in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, is marked by a sudden onset of a high fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Infection with chikungunya virus is rarely fatal, the CDC says, but the joint pain can often be debilitating. Most patients recover in about a week, but for some, long-term joint pain is a problem.
In late 2013, chikungunya was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya, the CDC says. In 2014-5, 2,662 cases of chikungunya were reported in the continental U.S.. Most of those were imported by travelers. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also had significant outbreaks.
A staggering 40 percent of the world’s population lives in an area at risk for dengue, and an estimated 390 million people are infected each year. The illness is caused by one of four viruses: dengue virus 1, 2, 3, and 4. Because there are four different viruses, it is possible for someone to get dengue up to four times, the CDC says.
Like WNV and chikungunya, there is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat a dengue infection. But most people who are infected have no symptoms, or only mild ones. Mild symptoms include a fever and severe headache, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, and rash. The CDC emphasizes that these symptoms can quickly become sever, so early diagnosis and management are critical.
As frightening as these viruses are, the CDC says that using insect repellents is the best way to protect you and your loved ones from getting mosquito-borne viruses. Here are some guidelines for choosing repellent. Look for products containing:
DEET: Products containing DEET include Cutter, OFF!, Skintastic.
Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin): Products containing picaridin include Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan outside the United States.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD: Products containing OLE include Repel and Off! Botanicals.
IR3535: Products containing IR3535 include Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.
You should also dress protectively when weather permits, the CDC says. This means long-sleeved shirts and pants.
Keep mosquitoes outside. Use air condition or make sure your window and door screens don’t have any holes. If you are traveling abroad and there are no screens, sleep under a mosquito net.
Pack a travel health kit. For the CDC’s list of items you should take, click here.
Learn about destination-specific health risks and recommendations by visiting CDC Travelers’ Health website. Click here.
See a healthcare provider familiar with travel medicine, ideally four to six weeks before your trip. Find a clinic here.
The CDC recommends that you visit your healthcare provider immediately if you develop a fever, headache, joint pain. For more information, visit the agency’s Getting Sick After Travel webpage; click here.
For more about health and safety issues, visit the CDC’s website; click here.