Mosquito Fever Is Among Us

It is spring, it’s wet and the mosquitoes are on their way. As the weather gets warmer and we plan more outdoor activities, it’s important to remember that we are not the only ones becoming more active. Mosquitoes are vectors for disease. This means they can transmit disease from one human or animal to another. Typically, the diseases are caused by viruses or tiny parasites. The virus and mosquito coexist together without harming each other. The virus reproduces itself within the mosquito, and then is passed along when the mosquito bites another person.

The big story in the news lately has been the Zika virus. The most common symptoms of the Zika virus are fever, aches, rash and red eyes. Most of the time the illness is not severe enough for people to seek medical treatment. For this reason, people may not even realize they are infected. The worry with the Zika virus is mainly for pregnant women. The Zika virus can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly or other fetal brain defects. The most recent increase in outbreaks has been in South America, specifically Brazil. Also reports from Central America and Puerto Rico have occurred. No local mosquitoes have been found to have the Zika virus in the United States. Cases that have been diagnosed in the U.S. were all related to travel exposure. The Zika virus can be detected by a blood test, but the availability is limited. Tests need to be approved by the state CDC. Treatment is all symptomatic; it is aimed at preventing dehydration, controlling fever and aches.

Prevention of transmission is also important. Transmission has been found to occur through sexual contact. Males who have traveled to areas endemic with Zika virus and have a pregnant partner are recommended to use condoms with any sexual activity throughout the entire pregnancy. Men who have traveled to endemic areas should avoid attempting to impregnate their partner for 3 months post exposure. Women who become pregnant after recent travel to endemic areas should consult their physician for testing. So as you can see it’s a good news story but not something most of us in the state of New Jersey will have much exposure to.

What we do need to be more concerned about is West Nile virus, which does occur in the northeast. Again symptoms are flu like in nature, fever, aches, chills, and diarrhea. In less than 1% of the cases people develop encephalitis or meningitis. These patients suffer from severe headache, neck pain, fever and seizures. Treatment usually entails supportive treatment in a hospital setting.

The true goal with any mosquito borne illness is prevention. Avoiding mosquito bites by using repellants that contain DEET is the mainstay. When weather permits, wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors at night is beneficial. Mosquito proof your home by fixing screens and keeping doors closed. Reduce the # of mosquitoes in your yard by removing standing water. Also notify the state of any issues with dead birds in your area, which can be a sign of West Nile virus. Some local municipalities may participate in applying insecticides.

All in all mosquito borne illnesses are not that common in our area. A little prevention will go a long way. If you are planning on traveling to areas endemic with mosquitoes check the CDC website to see what specific precautions should be taken.