Northern Westchester Hospital Infectious Diseases Expert Talks Mosquitoes

Posted on: July 11, 2014

Mosquito Menace

By Dr. Debra Spicehandler, MD

mosquitoYou might feel like mosquitoes are mostly an annoyance in summer, wrecking the perfect picnic or barbecue with their buzzing and itchy bites. But, weighing in at approximately 2.5 milligrams, these minuscule menaces can really pack a punch carrying some nasty diseases as well, which is why you should take steps to avoid being bitten.

The most common mosquito-borne illness in our area is the West Nile Virus. The first case this summer was identified in June, in Rockland county. This virus causes flu-like symptoms in most people, though for anyone who is immune-compromised—including infants and the elderly—the virus can trigger inflammation in the brain. Right now we don’t have any way to treat the virus, but doctors can provide supportive care for the symptoms, such as fluids and pain relief.

If you’re traveling to the Caribbean this summer, you should be wary of the local mosquitoes because they can carry dengue fever. This virus causes a high fever, severe headaches, joint and muscle pain, rashes, and even nose and gum bleeding. Many of the islands are also home to a new threat that traveled all the way from Africa: Chikungunya, a virus that can cause fever and joint pain.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for avoiding mosquitoes is that the bites itch, and children especially may scratch too vigorously. Should they break the skin, they could end up with an infection.

Do your best to avoid getting bit: Wear light, loose-fitting, long sleeves and pants and use bug spray that contains DEET when you’re outdoors, specifically around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. To keep down the mosquito population around your house, make sure you don’t have any sources of still water, such as a bird bath: Mosquitoes like to breed in stagnant water. Be sure to check your screens and fix any tears to help keep mosquitoes out of your house.

Editor’s Note: We’ve learned that mosquitoes are weak fliers – fans may do the trick when you’re dining on the deck or patio in the evening. We’ve also found a few ‘Cheap and Easy’ ways to keep mosquitoes at bay courtesy of AARP: http://blog.aarp.org/2012/08/06/cheap-easy-tips-for-keeping-mosquitos-away/

Dr. Debra Spicehandler is the Co-Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Northern Westchester Hospital.