Vampires are easy to deal with compared to blood-sucking mosquitos
Six legs, a pointed abdomen, and wings measuring up to ¾ inches in length and weighing .000088 ounces. Both males and females eat nectar for food, but the female sucks blood to supply protein for eggs. She loves carbon dioxide. Hold your breath. It’s Lady Mosquito Aedes aegypti!
Mosquitos have four life stages: Egg to larva (wigglers) to pupa and then, like a butterfly, emergence as an adult. Three stages are in water so the best prevention is removing standing water in such collectors as tires, flowerpots, pools or even a bottle cap. Bonnie Deakins, Director of Environmental Health Services for Hamilton County Health Department, said, “You must scrub hard once or twice a week! You can’t just empty the water because the eggs are really sticky.”
This aggressive mosquito prefers indoor and daytime biting. For most humans comes annoying itching and a red bump, the body’s reaction as the mosquito inserts its anticoagulant-laden saliva into you via its proboscis. More seriously there are diseases transmitted by these ‘little flies’ such as malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, chikungunya, and West Nile virus. Malaria extended throughout the United States in the 1800s. Yellow fever was once common in Tennessee, most notably during the Memphis 1878 epidemic.
Both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito in our area, can carry the Zika virus. The Zika virus and the others are delivered to humans by female mosquitos. Males don’t bite. Now there’s a bit of good news.
Lately, Zika virus with its potentially devastating impacts for pregnant women has shocked us. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3-4 million people across the Americas will be infected with Zika in the next year. Eighty percent will have no noticeable symptoms, but for pregnant women the virus may produce newborns with microcephaly, a neurological disorder resulting in abnormally small heads and developmental issues.
According to Ms. Deakins, Hamilton County Health Department has seen no cases of Zika virus here although both Aedes mosquitos are present. That’s a relief for now, but our luck may not hold. Zika is moving north from its outbreaks south of us. WHO expects it to spread across the United States.
As of April 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 346 cases in 41 states although all illnesses were associated with travelers returning after bites in countries like Brazil.
Why these outbreaks? More travelers can be disease carriers as they arrive home. Still, these mosquito-driven diseases are partly due to climate change. Warmer temperatures and moisture allow mosquitos to flourish.
“A robust public health system in the USA will protect people from some of those changes, says Sonia Altizer, ecology professor at University of Georgia-Athens and co-author of a recent paper in the journal Science on how climate change affects infectious diseases worldwide. The bad news: “It’s going to cost us more money,” she says. “More mosquito abatement, more deer fences, more vaccination campaigns, more public health clinics, higher medical insurance costs. It all adds up.”
Locally Hamilton County Health Department is responsible for mosquito control. Deakins says that prevention presently involves screening of travelers. Emergencies might bring monitoring of outbreak areas and yard surveys.
The main effort is through education for larval stage control plus prevention of bites. She advises wearing light clothing, long sleeves and pants, covered shoes and tucked in socks plus a repellant when outdoors. DEET is proven effective, but not good for young children. Many swear by Avon’s Skin-So-Soft. Oil of lemon or eucalyptus can help.
Pesticides placed in wetlands or ponds are problematic for the ecosystem. EPA recommends integrated pest management and a larvicide named Bti (Bacillus thuringien-sis israeliensis). Remember, not all mosquitos are harmful. They do provide food for some fish and frogs and to a lesser extent bats and birds.
By the way, neither citronella nor bug zappers really work. Try a fan.
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. You can visit her website to learn more at enviroedu.net
Photo by Diego Medrano