Fight the Bite

The good news is that we have apparently dodged any crippling cold weather storms this winter.

The bad news is the peskiest of insects – mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, etc. – have gotten a great jump on breeding season thanks to unseasonably warm and wet conditions.

This column focuses on the first human foe on that list, mosquitoes; a stinging critter capable of carrying diseases that can be passed along to human hosts. Mosquito-borne illnesses make the news every year. Recent “headliners” include Zika, an infection that was causing serious birth defects in the Central Americas and elsewhere, and West Nile Virus, which swept through the southern half of the United States and posed the greatest danger of elevated, flu-like symptoms to elderly, chronically ill and other immune-compromised individuals.

In addition to West Nile, other commonly reported mosquito-associated sicknesses in Virginia are Eastern Equine, La Crosse and St. Louis encephalitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each of these diseases are associated with the brain and nervous system. In severe cases, victims have experienced seizures and paralysis, the CDC reported. Approximately 30 percent of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems.

So, that’s the enemy we’re facing. Our job is to avoid becoming a victim, and the best way to do that is twofold – helping to control the mosquito population and taking steps to protect ourselves from blood-sucking insects.

Stagnant pools of water, even as little as a few tablespoons, are ideal incubators for mosquito larvae. Check the areas around your home and worksite for standing water containers such as old tires, empty flower pots, fire pits and buckets. Make sure they are completely emptied of liquid and cover, flip upside-down or relocate them so they won’t fill up again. For pet watering bowls and birdbaths, changing the water at least every other day will prevent stagnation.

If the water cannot be removed, treat it with a chemical to prevent larva growth. Dissolvable tablets specifically designed for this purpose can be found in most home improvement stores. Be sure to read the instructions and follow all safety guidelines listed.

The following steps will help individuals avoid mosquito stings:

  • When outside, wear loose, light-colored, long-sleeved shirts/pants and treat your clothes with permethrin (most military uniforms have already been permeated with this chemical).
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. Repellents should not be applied under clothing. Avoid areas near the mouth and eyes and apply sparingly around ears. Never use repellents on cuts, wounds or rashes. Avoid spraying products directly onto the face. Parents should not allow their children to apply chemical repellants on their own. For more tips, read the Kenner article at www.fortleetraveller.com (enter “insect bites, stings” in search bar).
  • Be mindful of the amount of time doors to your home or worksite are left open. Check window and door screens for tears or gaps that allow insects to come inside.
  • Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Take extra precautions during these times or move indoors.
  • When camping (or on deployment overseas), sleep under a mosquito net.

Additional information about mosquitoes and protective measures against bites is available at www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes/index.html. Next week, the Traveller will provide information about tick identification, bite prevention and symptoms of tick-borne diseases. Last week’s article focused on snakes and their importance to the environment. For questions, contact the Environmental Management Division at 804-765-5014.