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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Are you a super magnet for mosquitoes?

Published: Wednesday, June 7, 2017

By KIM HORTON
Times-News Columnist

Mosquito season is upon us. Being a lifelong super magnet for mosquito bites always reminds me to check my repellent reserves each year. My game plan starts early in April by making sure I have plenty of insect repellent available for the warmer weather ahead. I’m ready and waiting and on high alert for discerning the distinctive buzz indicating that a small blood-sucking arthropod has found me.

Even if you’re not a super magnet for mosquitoes, it’s still important to take precautions to prevent their bite.

Though many consider a mosquito nothing more than an annoyance that bites and causes itching, we really do have reason to be concerned in Western North Carolina.

Mosquitoes can cause some serious illnesses-La Crosse encephalitis (LACV) and West Nile virus (WNV) are our primary local concerns.

LACV is a disease caused by a virus spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes, particularly the “tree-hole mosquito.” The mosquitoes that spread LACV are most active during the daytime, in spring through late fall.

Symptoms of LACV infection can occur from a few days to a couple of weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and tiredness. Severe disease involving encephalitis occurs most commonly in children under age 16 and is often accompanied by seizures. However, many people infected with LACV do not develop symptoms at all.

While WNV can also be a serious disease, most people infected with it will have no symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. Symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis, and in some cases, lasting neurological effects.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers are encouraged to talk to their doctor if they develop symptoms that could be WNV. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms of WNV if they do get sick and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites.

If you do develop symptoms of severe WNV or LACV illness, seek medical attention immediately.

Preventing mosquito bites is the best way to keep from being infected with these diseases, and this includes using effective means to protect yourself and your family:

• Wear insect repellent when you know you’re going to be outside. Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label). Do not apply repellents under your clothing. Repellents containing a higher percentage of the active ingredient typically provide longer-lasting protection.

Regardless of what product you use, if you start to get mosquito bites, reapply the repellent according to the label instructions.

• Insect repellents containing DEET have been tested and approved as safe for kids, but it's important to use insect repellent safely and correctly:

• Do not allow a child to handle or spray the product.

• Apply repellent to your own hands first in an open area and then put it on the child.

•Because children frequently put their hands in their eyes and mouths, avoid applying repellent to children's hands.

• Wash your child's skin with soap and water when you return indoors, and wash all clothing before it is worn again.

Other tips to remember:

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.

• Use air conditioning or make sure window and door screens are in place.

• Reduce the mosquito population by getting rid of breeding places.

Tip and toss any standing water weekly. Scrub, turn over, cover or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, tarps, clogged gutters, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, trash containers and tree-holes (e.g., knot-holes).

It’s a lot to think about. It’s a lot you could worry about, but you shouldn't.

Consider one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain: 'I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.'

Most of us will never experience a disease from a mosquito bite, but maybe it's because we did worry enough and used all the means available to prevent mosquito bites.

For more information, click on the Prevent Mosquito Bites link at hendersoncountync.org/ health.


Kim Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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Department of Public Health • 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223