Amber Lynn Partridge, Zookeeper
As we all know, May through September/October is mosquito season in Colorado. More people are spending time outdoors, and that means that people are more likely to get mosquito bites. Out of the more than 50 species of mosquitoes found in Colorado, only a few are disease vectors. Most people are familiar with West Nile Virus, but for those that are don’t know about it, here is some information about this mosquito-borne disease.
West Nile Virus was first seen in the United States in 1999 in New York and has spread across the country since that time. It is a virus in the Flavivirus family, was historically was found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and was first identified in 1937 in Uganda. In these parts of the world, it is considered a “children’s disease” because most people are exposed to the virus at a young age, and are then immune to the disease for life. While several species of mosquitoes can carry the virus, Culex tarsalis is the main West Nile vector in Colorado. West Nile is mainly a disease passed between mosquitoes and birds, but when an infected mosquito bites a human, the virus is transmitted. Scientists believe that most people who are infected with West Nile Virus do not show any symptoms, while others only show flu-like symptoms, which can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of appetite
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
The incubation period for the virus is between 3-20 days following the infected bite. There is another form of the virus, called West Nile Virus Neuroinvasive Disease. This form of the virus is very serious, but far less common than the other form. This form of the virus causes encephalitis or meningitis, which is an inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissues. In this form of the disease, the first symptoms are usually headache and fever. These symptoms can quickly progress into muscle stiffness, disorientation, muscle tremors, and potential coma. There is also a potential for permanent brain and tissue damage or even death.
The good news is that you can prevent West Nile Virus in some very easy ways. Draining any standing water around your house is a very easy and effective way to prevent mosquito breeding. Limit time spent outdoors to daytime hours and try to stay inside at dusk and dawn. If this is not possible, the best defense against mosquitoes is repellent. According to the CDC, DEET is the best repellent to use. When using DEET, 25-35% active ingredient is best and will last the longest. Most people can safely use DEET without any side effects. One of the biggest complaints about DEET is that it feels very greasy. There are several alternatives to DEET that, if used, MUST be applied every 30 minutes to every hour to be effective. Picardin and Lemon Eucalyptus Oil are both effective mosquito controls and tend to cause fewer side effects. Again, please note that these must be reapplied frequently for effective mosquito control. Dressing in long sleeves and pants will also help prevent mosquito bites. Using these tips will help prevent bites, disease, and those itchy welts.
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