Often times, Americans tend to associate mosquito borne diseases and dangerous mosquito bites with far away lands and other parts of the world. However, this wishful thinking can prove to be dangerous, as the United States, and Houston in particular, is home to many different mosquito species which can transmit life threatening diseases through their infectious bites. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or C.D.C, the number of humans infected with dangerous diseases by way of ticks, fleas and mosquito bites has tripled since 2004. This particular report outlined the recent rise in well-known diseases caused by mosquito bites and also detailed nine new disease causing microorganisms spread by tick and mosquito bites that have been found or introduced to the United States in the past 15 years. It is worth noting that between these two disease carrying insects, mosquito induced epidemics happen more frequently. Houston’s proximity to the Gulf Coast and its humid subtropical climate offers an ideal environment for mosquitos, thus increasing the risk for these dangerous diseases spread by mosquito bites. With Houston placing in the top twenty percent of states most affected by mosquito borne disease, these facts should be true cause for concern for Houstonians and Texans in surrounding areas.
Mosquito season in Houston begins in late February, as the weather begins to warm up and humidity starts to rise. By April, mosquito season is in full swing and the risks of being bitten by an infected mosquito becomes greater. In order to avoid these dangerous illnesses that are spread by mosquito bites, it is important to know which of these diseases you can contract in Houston, how you can prevent being bitten by mosquitos in the first place as well as the risks of mosquito bites in various travel destinations abroad.
Although there are many different types of mosquito borne illnesses worldwide that affect nearly 700 million people annually resulting in over one million deaths, Houston is home to a particular set of these diseases that can pose a risk to you and your family. The most common diseases spread by mosquito bites in Houston are West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus. The dangers and risks of each of these illnesses vary, however it is still crucial to know the signs and symptoms of these diseases and prevention of each.
Originally discovered in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, West Nile Virus then spread across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In 1999, West Nile Virus was first reported in the United States in Queens, New York and has since spread throughout North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Although it is not known for certain, experts believe that West Nile Virus was brought to the United States by an infected mosquito that may have hitched a ride on a cargo ship or plane. Others speculate that the virus was brought to America by an infected bird. However, this theory is said to be unlikely, as bird infections will only last for a few days with the infection rendering its carrier too sick to fly such a long distance.
West Nile Virus is the number one cause of mosquito borne illness in the continental United States. This virus is most commonly transmitted from person to person by way of infectious mosquito bites during peak mosquito season. However, it is possible to contract West Nile Virus in Texas year round. In humans, the incubation time for West Nile Virus can range from two to fourteen days. Approximately eighty-percent of people who become infected with West Nile Virus will not become sick, while twenty percent of infected people will develop a mild form of West Nile Fever, the resulting illness of West Nile Virus. The symptoms of West Nile Fever include headache, body aches, fever and in some cases, swollen lymph glands and a skin rash on the midsection of the body. These symptoms may last only a few days.
While the majority of people who are infected by West Nile Virus only show signs of mild disease, others are not so lucky. West Nile Virus can also cause a more severe disease, also known as West Nile Neuroinvasive disease, which affects the brain and spinal cord. It is estimated that one out of every 150 people infected by West Nile Virus will develop this more severe version of the disease. Undoubtedly, the health risks and implications are much greater if West Nile Virus develops into West Nile Neuroinvasive disease, as the infected person may fall victim to West Nile Encephalitis or Meningitis. The symptoms of these diseases are far more severe than mild cases and include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, muscle weakness, convulsions, coma and paralysis. These symptoms can last from weeks to months and sadly, some neurological symptoms can be permanent. In rare cases, death may occur. Although this severe form of West Nile Virus can affect virtually anyone, those who are over 50 years old or who have weakened immune systems are at the most risk. Currently, there are no known treatments or vaccinations for West Nile Virus in humans. Experts recommend that the prevention of mosquito bites is the best protection against West Nile Virus.
Zika Virus is another disease that is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites, but is fortunately less dangerous than West Nile Virus in most cases. First discovered in Uganda in 1947, Zika Virus then made its way across Africa and Asia, infecting humans who would then exhibit symptoms of mild illness. By 2016, Zika Virus had landed in the United States and became a greater risk for Americans. The most common carriers for Zika Virus are the Yellow Fever Mosquito and the Asian Tiger Mosquito. Both of these mosquito species are found in Texas, and specifically Houston, making Zika virus cause for concern for Houstonians. However, as of March 2019, Zika Virus has not been transmitted from mosquitos to humans in Texas. This information is good news for Texans and Houstonians, as it means the risk of contracting Zika Virus in Houston is thought to now be much lower.
The symptoms of Zika Virus are usually very mild and will occur two to seven days after an infectious mosquito bite. In fact, only one out of five people who contract Zika Virus will even know they are sick. Common symptoms of Zika Virus include rash, fever, joint pain, headache, muscle pain and red itchy eyes. The greatest concerns for Zika Virus infection lie largely with pregnant women. Pregnant women who become infected with Zika Virus can pass the disease onto their unborn babies, causing a severe and incurable birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly affects the brain and head of unborn babies, leading to deformation and underdevelopment. If you are pregnant and contract Zika Virus, you do not have to exhibit any symptoms to pass the disease to your unborn child.
Like West Nile Virus, there are currently no medications, vaccines of treatments for Zika Virus. There are two recommended precautions you can take to avoid contracting this disease through mosquito bites. The first step is to make your home environment less attractive to mosquitos and the second is to take usual preventative measures like wearing mosquito repellent and covering your skin with long sleeves and pants while outdoors.
Dengue Fever is yet another viral disease that is transmitted to humans through infectious mosquito bites. Although contracting Dengue Fever is not common within the continental United States, the risks of becoming infected abroad are great, and especially in Latin American and Southeast Asian countries. Most cases of Dengue Fever reported in the United States have been linked to overseas travel.
The primary symptoms on Dengue Fever include sever headache, high fever, joint pain, pain behind the eyes, muscle pain, bone pain, rash and mild bleeding the nose or gums. When affected by more mild symptoms, most people who contract Dengue Fever will recover within approximately one week. However, it is possible to develop a more severe case of Dengue Fever known as Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. The symptoms of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever can be life-threatening and includes persistent vomiting, bleeding from the gums and nose, difficulty breathing, fatigue, restlessness, bleeding under the skin and clammy skin. As with West Nile Virus and Zika Virus, there is no treatment or vaccine for Dengue Fever and preventative measures are most recommended.
The first local transmission of Chikungunya Virus recorded in the Americas took place in the Caribbean in late 2013. Local transmission means that the virus was not brought to the area by a human who had been infected elsewhere, but that an infected mosquito directly transmitted the disease to a human through its bite. Once Chikungunya Virus hit the Caribbean, it then spread throughout the Americas with the first recorded case of Chikungunya Virus in Texas occurring in 2016. Before 2013, Chikungunya Virus outbreaks were contained to Africa, Europe, the Indian and Pacific Oceans and Asia.
Chikungunya Virus is not typically fatal to humans but does cause uncomfortable symptoms including joint pain, fever, headaches, muscle pain, swelling and a rash. These symptoms will generally appear within three to seven days of infection. Within a week of exhibiting symptoms of Chikungunya Virus, most infected individuals will begin to feel better. However, the joint pain associated with this virus can last for months in some people. Those who are at most risk for contracting mosquito borne Chikungunya Virus are newborns, adults over 65 years of age and individuals with medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. As with the aforementioned mosquito borne illnesses, there is no medication or immunization to treat or prevent Chikungunya Virus. The best way to steer clear of an infection of this virus is to take routine preventative measures on your own.
If you are planning to travel abroad this summer, knowing the risks of mosquito bites and mosquito borne diseases in the area of the world you are visiting should be a top priority in your travel preparations. Global destinations most infamous for infectious mosquito bites are Africa, South America and Asia. Each continent is home to various different mosquito borne diseases, with 90% of worldwide malaria deaths occurring in Africa. Dengue Fever is common in all three continents and is the most rapidly spreading mosquito borne illness. West Nile Virus and Yellow Fever are two additional mosquito borne illnesses that you might be at risk for if traveling to these parts of the world.
Many travel destinations, including the destinations above, recommend vaccines for certain mosquito borne diseases prior to your vacation. These immunizations and further preparations can help to keep you and your family safe while overseas, allowing you to enjoy your vacation without needing to worry about the risks of infectious mosquito bites.
Mosquito bite prevention is one of the best ways to avoid a mosquito borne illness. Wether abroad or at home, there are steps you can take to ensure that you and your family are safe from the potential dangers of mosquito bites.
1. Using mosquito repellent spray is perhaps one of the most effective preventative measures you can take to avoid being bitten by these pesky insects. Choose the repellent that most suits you and your needs and when applying, concentrate on your feet, ankles, lower legs and wrists, as mosquitos are most attracted to these thin-skinned areas. Make sure to avoid applying mosquito repellent around your mouth and eyes.
2. Screens and mosquito nets are a great way to keep mosquitos from sneaking into your home through windows. If you live in an area that is particularly mosquito heavy, you can also hang a mosquito net over your bed to avoid getting bitten while you sleep.
3. Removing standing water from your home and property will help make your environment less attractive to mosquitos, as female mosquitos lay their eggs on the surface of still water.
4. To make yourself less appealing to mosquitos, choose baggy, light colored clothing if you will be outside where and when mosquitos are most active. Mosquitos are attracted to colors that stand out from the horizon, so wearing dark or bright colors will make you an easy target. It is also possible for mosquitos to bite through tight clothing, so wearing baggy shirts and pants can help to protect you against mosquito bites.
5. Spraying permethrin on your clothes is another way to deter mosquitos from biting you. Permethrin is an insect repellent that will last for either six weeks or six laundry cycles. Make sure not to apply permethrin to your skin, as it can cause irritation.
6. Keeping your shoes on while outdoors and especially during dusk and dawn can help to prevent mosquito bites. Not only are mosquitos attracted to the thin skin of the feet, they are also attracted to human foot odor. Whether you have smelly feet or not, it’s a good idea to keep your shoes on as a means of protection against mosquitos.
7. Avoid spending time outdoors during dawn and dusk, as these are generally the most active hours for many species of mosquitos.
8. Using fans in your home and on your property can help to control mosquitos, as these little insects don’t stand a chance in successfully flying through the wind produced by a fan. The most effective fans to use are floor and table fans, as mosquitos generally tend to flow low.
Natran can also help to protect you and your family from the dangers and annoyances of mosquito bites. Using botanically based, green yard fog and misting systems, Natran will safe guard your property and home, allowing you and your family to spend time outdoors peacefully and enjoy the beautiful spring and summer weather without the presence of pesky mosquitos.