Don’t get stung! That is the most important thing that you can do. Unfortunately, there are no vaccines at this time for these viruses, although industry and governments around the globe are working diligently to that end. However, as of right now, the best thing you can do is avoid getting mosquito bites and maintain an informed understanding of the viruses.
More about these worrisome viruses later (see below) meanwhile, here are some helpful steps for protection from mosquito bites.
Limit exposure to mosquitoes by:
- Avoiding outdoor activities when they're most active, dusk to dawn
- Repairing any tears in the screens on your windows, doors and camping gear
- Using mosquito netting over strollers and cribs or when sleeping outdoors
The most effective insect repellents in the United States include one of three active ingredients:
- Icaridin (also called picaridin)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (a plant-based compound)
These repellents temporarily repel mosquitoes and ticks. DEET may offer longer lasting protection. Whichever product you choose, read the label before you apply it. If you're using a spray repellent, apply it outdoors and away from food. If you have eczema or other skin condition, apply a small amount (about ½ inch) to your forearm the day before you want to use it.
If you're also using sunscreen, put it on first, about 20 minutes before applying the repellent. Avoid products that combine sunscreen and repellent, because you'll likely need to reapply sunscreen more often than repellent. And it's better to use only as much repellent as you need.
Used according to package directions, these products are generally safe for children and adults, with a few exceptions:
- Don't use DEET-containing products on infants younger than 2 months.
- Don't let young children get DEET or icaridin-containing products on their hands or faces.
- Don't use oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under age 3 years.
- Don't apply repellent under clothing.
- Don't apply repellent over sunburns, cuts, wounds or rashes.
- When you go indoors, wash with soap and water to remove any remaining repellent.
Treat clothing and outdoor gear
Permethrin is an insecticide and insect repellent used for additional protection. This product is applied to clothing and outdoor gear, not skin. Check the product label for specific application instructions. Some sporting goods stores sell clothing pretreated with permethrin.
Use protective clothing and gear
Weather permitting, wear:
- Long sleeves
- Socks and closed-toe shoes
- Long pants, possibly tucked into the tops of your socks
- Light colors
- A hat that protects your ears and neck or one with mosquito netting that covers your face
Take preventive medication
If you tend to have large or severe reactions to mosquito bites (skeeter syndrome), consider taking a non-drowsy, non-prescription antihistamine when you know you'll be exposed to mosquitoes.
Reduce mosquitoes around your home
Eliminate standing water, which mosquitoes need to breed. To keep your house and yard free of mosquito pools:
- Unclog roof gutters.
- Empty children's wading pools at least once a week, and preferably more often.
- Change water in birdbaths at least weekly.
- Get rid of old tires in your yard.
- Empty outdoor flower pots regularly or store them upside down so that they can't collect water.
- Drain your fire pit if water collects there.
What to do if you get mosquito bites
Itch and swelling are going to run their course, there isn’t much you can do for the local effects of mosquito bites. Topical treatment like Bite MD™ can help with the itch.
What to do if you think you have an infection carried by mosquitos. Since there is no vaccine to treat these viruses, the following treatment is recommended for the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Take medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to reduce fever and pain.
- Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.
- If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk with your doctor before taking additional medication.
Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito produces symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika; However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Since no vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease, the best thing to do is avoid mosquito bites.
Chikungunya virus infection is transmitted when Aedes aegypti and albopictus mosquitoes, containing Chikungunya virus, bite humans. Chikungunya is not considered to be contagious because there is no direct human to human transfer of Chikungunya viruses.
Symptoms usually begin 3–7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito with possible fever, joint pain, headache or rash. Most patients feel better within a week.
West Nile Virus
Typically, West Nile virus spreads to humans and animals via infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. You cannot get infected from casual contact with an infected person or animal. About 70-80% of people who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. Approximately 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.
Any of these viruses can cause a troublesome, chronic illness, but that is rare. If you suspect such a problem, contact your doctor.