Zika’s been in the news … but wait, there’s more mosquito-borne diseases you should know about.
With the World Health Organization declaring the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern, mosquitos have gone from being a nuisance to a cause for concern over spreading disease.
While Zika is a serious virus that can cause severe birth defects, it is one of several viruses being spread by mosquitos. What else do we need to know about?
The Aedes mosquito species — the type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus — also carries West Nile virus, chikungunya and Dengue fever. There are no vaccines or medications that treat these diseases, and they can become quite serious.
Here’s a quick breakdown on what you need to know about these diseases:
West Nile virus
- West Nile virus has been reported in nearly every state in the U.S.
- Most commonly contracted between June and September from an infected mosquito. It cannot be transmitted from person to person.
- Up to 80 percent of people who contract West Nile virus have few or no symptoms.
- The few symptoms that may occur include vomiting, body aches and diarrhea. People with certain medical conditions can develop more serious symptoms, including inflammation in the brain.
- While most people recover completely, fatigue and weakness can last for months.
- Chikungunya has been reported in the United States, primarily in Caribbean territories and Puerto Rico.
- Symptoms typically begin three to seven days after the initial bite and include fever, joint swelling, headache, muscle pain and rash.
- The disease typically clears up on its own after about two weeks but joint pain can persist for months.
- Symptoms can become more serious, especially in newborns, older adults and those with high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.
- Dengue is a disease caused by one of four dengue viruses. The majority of outbreaks are in tropical locations, including the Caribbean.
- It is contracted from an infected mosquito. It cannot be transmitted from person to person.
- Early symptoms of dengue fever are headaches, joint and muscle pains, high fever, vomiting and rash.
- Symptoms can develop into dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can include bleeding under the skin and from the nose and gums.
- It can turn into dengue shock syndrome, which consists of massive bleeding and shock.
- Dengue fever clears up on its own after about a week if it does not develop into a more serious form.
Should I be worried?
Like the Zika virus, these diseases are spread by the Aedes mosquito species, which is found in warm, sunny, tropical areas that tend to be popular vacation destinations.
What makes these diseases concerning is that initial symptoms can seem minor and can be confused with a cold or the flu.
How can I protect myself?
If you are planning to travel to a tropical location, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website to find out about outbreaks at your destination and to get tips on protecting yourself. Be sure to arm yourself with bug repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus essential oil or a product with IR3535 as the active ingredient.
If weather permits, wear long pants and long sleeves, or treat your clothing with repellents prior to wearing them.
And if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon, check with your OB/GYN before traveling.