Offered by Richard W. Martin, MD
Most of the 3,000 species of mosquitoes worldwide and 174 species in the U.S. do not spread disease. The Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika virus and Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria fortunately do not live in Colorado. Culex mosquitoes, which do live in Colorado, can spread West Nile virus. The first case of West Nile virus disease for the season in Colorado was reported in Larimer County in late May. Most cases do not occur, however, until August and September. Colorado and North and South Dakota have the highest per capita rates of West Nile virus in the U.S
Male and female mosquitoes feed on plant nectar but the females require additional nutrients from the blood of mammals or birds to produce their eggs. Birds are the main reservoir of West Nile virus. In addition to monitoring mosquitoes for the presence of West Nile Virus, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment checks dead birds, in particular those in the corvid family (which includes crows, ravens and jays) for West Nile virus.
Most people who catch West Nile virus have no symptoms and are completely unaware of the infection. About 20% of those infected have flu-like symptoms with fever, headache, muscle aches and nausea. Less than 1% develop severe disease with encephalitis or other neurological complications. Possible symptoms of encephalitis include severe headache, confusion and tremor. Severe disease with West Nile virus is more common in older adults. There is currently no specific treatment for West Nile virus and no vaccine.
The best way to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses is to avoid being bitten. If possible, avoid being outside at dusk, when mosquitoes bite the most. If you and your children are out at dusk, wear long clothing that covers the arms and legs. Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are the most effective. According to the Food and Drug Administration, DEET (30% or less) can be used safely down to two months of age and oil of lemon eucalyptus down to 3 years of age. Repellent can be applied to clothing and exposed skin. The safest way to apply repellent to your child is to put it on your hands first. Avoid applying repellent around your child’s eyes, on their hands, or to cuts or irritated skin. When you return indoors, wash off the repellent with soap and water, and launder clothing to which it was applied. Avoid standing water in your yard; even a teaspoon of water is enough for a mosquito to lay her eggs.
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