Part Three of Our ‘Summer in the Safe Zone’ Series
It’s hard to enjoy the great outdoors when the notoriously irksome summer insect, the mosquito, will not leave you alone.
To prevent mosquito bites, Adelaide Hebert, MD, professor and director of pediatric dermatology at UTHealth Medical School, suggests using an application that contains Picaridin, an insect repellent that has been available without prescription for a few years. Hebert says this key ingredient is effective with a "greater power to repel" pesky insects than repellents containing DEET, an ingredient used in pest control items for about 50 years.
Both the Picaridin and DEET-based repellents are available in a variety of applications, including pump sprays, lotions and towelettes that make regular applications to skin much easier, especially after water activities, rain or heavy perspiration.
Bite reactions, including itching, can also be relieved, Hebert says, with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications with hydrocortisone, or by using chilled moisturizers. Additionally, OTC antihistamines can be helpful in relieving painful skin irritations, she says.
Burning of candles containing citronella oil can help in providing a few feet of mosquito-free space outdoors, she says, but should not be used by people wearing loose, easily flammable clothing or around children.
West Nile virus…itching for some new info?
West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted to humans, birds, horses and other animals through mosquito bites.
From 1999 to 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 2003 had the most national (9,862) and Texas (720) cases of WNV. Fortunately, the number of cases has significantly decreased over the past several years, but WNV is still something to think about as you make those camping or hiking plans this summer.
In fact, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, recently sampled mosquitoes in Brazoria, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties tested positive for West Nile, even though there have been no reported human cases this year.
Although about 80 percent of cases are asymptomatic in humans, some cases cause West Nile fever or severe West Nile disease. West Nile fever includes flu-like symptoms and skin rash that can last from a few days up to a few weeks.
According to the CDC, less than 1 percent of WNV cases result in meningitis or encephalitis. Symptoms, which require immediate medical attention, include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
In 2003, there were 2,866 cases of meningitis/encephalitis, with 264 ending in fatality. However, in 2011, there were only 486 cases of meningitis/encephalitis, with 43 deaths, according to the CDC.
“There are a few cases in the region every year, especially in the summer,” says Luis Ostrosky-Zeichner, MD, professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UTHealth Medical School. “Knowing how to prevent mosquito bites is what has stabilized the number of cases.”
There is no cure for West Nile virus and the best defense is prevention. The CDC Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (organisms that transmit infection from one host to another) provides four tips for avoiding mosquito bites:
- Wear insect repellant.
- Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs.
- Install or repair window and door screens.
- Support community-based mosquito control programs.
Also, keep in mind that the hours between dusk and dawn are when mosquitoes are the most active. Wear long-sleeves and long pants if the weather permits.