Life Bites

How To Protect Yourself From Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

West Nile virus has been detected in Sarasota County. Here are some tips for keeping these pesky insects at bay.

By Allison Forsyth August 9, 2022

Mosquito Spray

Mosquitoes. They're not just the pesky insects that cause itchy bites—they can sometimes carry infectious diseases, t00.

During a typical Sarasota summer, you may shoo mosquitoes away from your skin at night or put on some bug spray. This summer, however, a few cases of West Nile virus have been found in sentinel chickens in Sarasota County, which means mosquitoes in the area are carrying the disease.

While no human cases of West Nile virus have been reported, Sarasota County Mosquito Management Services have started mosquito control treatments in the surrounding area.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, eight out of 10 people infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. If you do, you can expect fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea and a rash. In severe cases, the virus affects the central nervous system and can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of spinal cord membranes).

While anyone can get West Nile virus, people over the age of 60 are at greater risk for severe illness. Recovery from this form of the virus can take weeks to months. There are no specific medications or vaccines available for West Nile virus infection; however, pain relievers can help with symptoms. Treatment with hospitalization of severe cases can include IV fluids and pain medication.

So, how do we protect ourselves from the mosquitoes that can carry this illness?

Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.

The insects lay up to 100 eggs at a time, which hatch when submerged in water. This means empty water from garbage cans, gutters, buckets, pool covers and other containers where sprinkler or rainwater has collected.

Discard old tires, drums, bottles and pots that aren't being used.

Make sure birdbaths and pet water bowls are emptied twice a week. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

Cover your skin with clothing and insect repellent.

Wear shoes, socks and long pants and sleeves, especially if you work outside. Apply mosquito repellant to bare skin. Look for products with 30 percent concentration of DEET—a yellow oil that repels bugs—and other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved ingredients like picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or IR3535. All can be found at local pharmacies.

Apply repellent generously to exposed skin and on clothing, but not under clothing.

Do not use oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under the age of 3, or DEET on children younger than 2 months old, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Instead, you can use mosquito netting indoors or outdoors to protect children younger than two months.

If you do get bitten, The Mayo Clinic advises applying a lotion or nonprescription hydrocortisone cream to ease the itch, or dabbing it with a paste made of baking soda and water. Apply a cool compress or take an oral antihistamine for strong bite reactions. Continue to check on the bite for abnormalities or if you feel sick days after.

Cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out of the home.

The insects can fly through holes in pool screens, windows, doors and porches.

Sarasota County Mosquito Management Services will continue to track the number of mosquito outbreaks in the area, set traps and spray insecticide in various zones. For daily updates on the zones to be sprayed, visit mosquito services' page. You can also request spray services at your home and register for spray notifications by calling 311 or registering online.

In addition to West Nile Virus cases, the Florida Department of Health is also conducting statewide surveillance for other mosquito-borne illnesses such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, malaria and dengue—which are rare in our state.

"With all the rain we've had locally, it's important for residents and visitors to take the appropriate precautions to protect themselves from being bitten by a mosquito in the first place," DOH-Sarasota administrator Chuck Henry said in an Aug. 1 release. "Everyone is encouraged to cover up and use repellent when mosquitoes are present."

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