Rowan Health Department: Mosquitoes bring disease

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2016

By Tad Helmstetler

Rowan County Health Department

Springtime has arrived, and with the warmer temperatures come the presence of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes have been a nuisance since time immemorial, but now they present a threat of disease transmission not seen in years.

Last year, the tropical disease Chikungunya was introduced into the United States from the Caribbean. This year, we face the introduction of the Zika virus from Brazil. The presence of these diseases makes mosquito control a priority.

The Chikungunya virus produces fever and joint pain, and may also result in headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash. Infection with Chikungunya is rarely fatal but the effects can be long-term and devastating.

People at risk for more serious disease are the very young, older people, and people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Infection with the Chikungunya virus likely makes a person immune from future infection.

The Zika virus causes fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache. People infected with Zika may show no symptoms at all. Pregnant women who contract the Zika virus risk having babies with microcephaly, which is a condition where the infant’s skull is significantly smaller than normal and brain abnormalities result.

Zika has also been associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which leads to muscle weakness and possible paralysis, and another, similar disease which is like multiple sclerosis.

The mosquitoes responsible for the spread of both Chikungunya and Zika viruses are  Aedes aegypti, also known as the Yellow Fever mosquito, and Aedes albopictus, the Asian Tiger mosquito. Both mosquitoes are invasive species. They are black in color with white stripes. They are day-biting mosquitoes which breed in small pools of standing water.

The key to controlling the populations of these mosquitoes is removal of breeding habitat. These mosquitoes are capable of breeding in the amount of water held by a plastic drink cap. A careful search around the home for sources of standing water such as planters, sagging gutters and tarps covering equipment can help reduce the mosquito population.

When venturing outside, mosquito bites can be prevented by wearing loose-fitting light-colored clothes. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker colors and can bite through tight-fitting clothing. If possible, wear long sleeves and long pants. Using repellents which contain DEET is another way to prevent mosquito bites. Applied according to label directions, DEET-containing repellents are safe and effective. Other chemicals used in insect repellents include Picaridine, IR3535, and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

The warmer months are perfect for fun in the great outdoors, and by taking a few simple precautions, mosquitoes won’t have a chance to ruin summer fun or jeopardize health and well being.

For more information, call the Rowan County Health Department Environmental Health Program at 704-216-8525.

Tad Helmstetler is environmental health supervisor with the Rowan County Health Department.