”Not Your Parents’ Mosquitoes”: When To Worry About Bites

Mosquito bites can be more than just a nuisance for many throughout the spring and summer months. They’re also a growing source of disease throughout the United States.

“These are not our parents’ mosquitoes and they may not be ‘just mosquito bites’ anymore,” said Luis Ostrosky, MD, medical director of epidemiology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and vice chair for healthcare quality for the Department of Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston.

Nine new germs linked to mosquitoes or ticks have been introduced or discovered in the U.S. since 2004, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationally, illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites tripled from 2004 to 2016, totaling 96,000 cases in 2016.

Reports of increased rates of illness have come at the unofficial start of mosquito season in Texas, which ranks third among states with mosquito-borne disease cases since 2004, according to the CDC.

While most mosquito bites pose no greater danger than an itchy annoyance, the chance of acquiring a mosquito-borne illness is too serious to ignore.

“It is important for people to understand that mosquitoes carry the risk of disease and that they should take steps to protect themselves from being bitten,” Dr. Ostrosky said.

Taking Steps to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Several regions of Texas are home to warm temperatures and humidity that invite mosquito activity, where more severe diseases like St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya virus and Dengue fever have been reported in recent years.

Dr. Ostrosky credits the efforts of public health departments with preventing and limiting mosquito-borne disease cases in Houston and Harris County, Texas’ most populous county. But he echoes the recommendations by the CDC and Harris County Public Health urging people to better protect themselves against mosquito bites:

  • Properly use insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency containing DEET (diethyltoluamide). Other active ingredients like picaridin, IR535, OLE or PMD, or 2-undecanone are also found in bug sprays, but the CDC notes that some may not be appropriate or safe for all ages.
    • ALWAYS read the instructions on the bottle or can and pay special attention to those that apply to children and infants, who should never apply repellent themselves.
    • DO NOT use repellent on infants younger than 2 months old.
    • Apply sunscreen first and then repellent.

The EPA has created a search tool to assist people in finding the right registered repellents for them.

  • Cover up with long sleeves and pants when possible and take note of peak mosquito times.
    • Use mosquito netting to cover cribs, strollers and baby carriers.
    • Ensure infants’ arms and legs are covered when outdoors.
  • Empty receptacles that hold standing water on a regular basis. Mosquitos breed in stagnant water so any artificial containers that could hold water should have the water changed or emptied on a regular basis.
  • Practice home mosquito control indoors and outdoors.
  • Keep storm drains free of debris to ensure proper drainage.
  • Eliminate any holes in doors, windows or screens that may serve as entry points for mosquitoes.
  • Research indoor and outdoor sprays to determine if that is an appropriate method of insect control for your household.

Knowing When It’s More Than a Mosquito Bite

Dr. Ostrosky suggests people seek medical attention if a mosquito bite elicits a reaction beyond the normal itchy welt.

“People should seek immediate professional medical help if any insect bite is followed by a fever, increased pain or swelling, a rash or flu-like symptoms,” Dr. Ostrosky said.

For more information on mosquito control and prevention, contact your state or local health department, or visit the EPA’s mosquito control site.

For questions about when to seek care for insect bites, contact the free 24/7 Nurse Health Line.  Call 713.338.7979 or visit the website. 

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