By Cheré Coen. Photography courtesy of zidbits.com
Those nasty mosquitoes that make our lives miserable with irritating buzzing and biting in summer months can also be deadly. Out of the 50-plus mosquito species found in Mississippi, at least three deadly viruses — West Nile and three forms of encephalitis — are known to transmit diseases to humans and animals, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.
The Zika virus has consumed the news of late, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes to pregnant women that causes birth deformities to fetuses, among other problems. Once found only in foreign countries, the virus is now prevalent in the United States in South Florida and Brownsville, Texas, although most U.S. Zika cases are from contact overseas, according to the Center for Disease Control.
In Mississippi, the Zika virus — should it rear its ugly head — would primarily be transmitted by the yellow fever mosquito, aedes aegypti, and the Asian tiger mosquito, aedes albopictus, according to Jerome Goddard, extension professor of medical and veterinary entomology in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology at Mississippi State University.
“Zika vectors live in close proximity to people’s houses, especially around the back porch and patio area where they breed in pots, pans, and planters,” Goddard wrote in the Mississippi State Medical Association Journal. “In such situations, a door-to-door effort is needed to educate homeowners about mosquito breeding and elimination (including larviciding, which means killing the larvae), combined with hand-held fogging with pesticides where needed.”
Goddard encourages the discovery and elimination of mosquito breeding sites around houses and yards where water stagnates such as planters, pet dishes and bird baths. He recommends in his article, “Top 10 Facts Mississippians Should Know about Mosquito Control and Zika Virus,” that homeowners empty standing water or remove objects where water gathers.
Chemicals such as backyard foggers, mosquito dunks and traps are helpful in combating the pests as well.
In addition of prevention locally, it’s important to know the risk of diseases when traveling. The CDC warns of viruses such as Zika and diseases such as malaria, among many others, prevalent in foreign countries, some as close as the Caribbean and Mexico. Whether preventing viruses such as West Nile and encephalitis that exist nationwide or traveling to countries that report Zika cases, it’s imperative to prepare for mosquitoes.
The best plan of action to is take caution against being bitten.
For personal protection, insect repellents using the chemical diethyltoluamide (DEET) are the most effective, said Charles L. Cantrell of the National Center for Natural Products Utilization Research at Ole Miss.
“I think DEET is a great product,” Cantrell said, adding that it’s been used effectively for decades.
DEET is a chemical and has been known to cause adverse reactions to skin as well as other health issues. If parents must use DEET on children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a product with 10 to 30 percent DEET and nothing containing DEET for children under the age of two. Do not apply DEET underneath clothing or on cuts and wounds and wash all clothes after DEET use.
Because of DEET’s chemical makeup, many people, particularly parents, prefer natural insect repellants. Garlic, oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella — even citrus dishwashing liquid — has been used to fight off mosquitoes with limited results.
Cantrell has studied alternative repellants for fighting mosquitoes because the public has demanded natural products, he said. He looks to folk remedies as repellants, such as using leaves from the beautyberry bush found throughout the Deep South, to hopefully bring to market natural ways of fighting mosquitoes.
“The beautyberry showed excellent repellant quality of a chemical compound,” Cantrell said, adding that it worked on ticks and fire ants as well. “We tried to use it commercially but it just wasn’t cost effective.” Cantrell has had better luck in recent studies with the breadfruit tree of Hawaii.
It may make the wearer uncomfortable during the warm, humid months of summer, but the Mississippi State Department of Health recommends adorning long sleeves and pants to avoid being bit. Avoiding outdoor activities during peak mosquito biting times — dusk to dawn — is also recommended.
Pregnant women should consult with their health care provider before visiting countries where Zika has been reported. The Center for Disease Control urges pregnant women to avoid travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission. For a list of countries where Zika has been confirmed, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov.
For more information on fighting mosquitoes and mosquito prevention, visit the Mississippi Department of Health website at www.msdh.ms.gov.