The nasty little monsters

It’s summertime. Time for the beach, the sun, dining “al fresco” and … mosquitoes!

There is no doubt about it, mosquitoes are annoying.

What is worse, their bites sometimes transmit serious diseases. Mosquitoes are vectors of many relevant human diseases, like malaria as well as viral pathogens such as dengue, yellow fever and the West Nile virus.

As the world is becoming a smaller place, presently even mosquitoes travel by jet plane carrying diseases that they spread in areas where they were unknown, all in a matter of hours … without having to pay for a ticket. Even more interesting, some of them manage to happily move in and adapt to their “new house”.

Worldwide introduction of various mosquito species over large distances into regions where they are not indigenous has occurred through human agents, primarily on sea routes, in which the eggs, larvae and pupae inhabiting water-filled used tires and cut flowers are transported. However, apart from sea transport, mosquitoes have been effectively carried by personal vehicles, delivery trucks, trains and aircraft.

Man-made areas such as storm water retention basins, or storm drains also provide sprawling sanctuaries. Sufficient quarantine measures have proven difficult to implement. In addition, outdoor pool areas make a perfect place for them to grow.

Therefore, foreign mosquito species entering new countries may not only produce ecological stress but they are also considered a potential threat to public health. This has been the case of many agricultural pests unknowingly embarked within plant shipments, leading occasionally to establishment in destination countries and challenging local economies as well as natural systems.

How to keep mosquitoes at bay…
At least one can always try!

While your risk of getting diseases from mosquitoes is low, your risk of being annoyed by mosquitoes is high. In fact, mosquitoes may be so annoying that you do not even enjoy spending time outdoors. Although common mosquitoes are most prevalent at dawn and dusk, it is not always possible or desirable to stay indoors during those periods, as they may be peak time for fun activities.

But you can take steps to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay, no matter what time of day it is. With some basic steps, you and your family may spend less time scratching itchy bites and more time at playgrounds, ball games or backyard barbecues.

Insect repellents are one good way to keep mosquitoes at bay. When used properly, repellents are safe for children and adults alike. Keep in mind that repellents do not kill mosquitoes. So you may still see the pesky critters buzzing about. Repellents simply make you more difficult to find.

Check the labels of insect repellent products to see which chemicals or other ingredients they contain. And be sure to follow the product’s application guidelines. DEET has proven most effective.

What you wear can also help. Particularly in areas that are heavily infested with mosquitoes, wear socks, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and light-colour clothing as mosquitoes are more attracted to darker colours.

Mosquitoes need stagnant or standing water to breed. Eliminate standing water, especially after rains, and you can reduce the mosquito population around your home and yard.

Other methods of controlling mosquitoes are also popular, but their effectiveness is unproved. These other methods include electronic insect control systems, citronella-scented candles and replacing outdoor lights with yellow bug lights.
But why do some people get bitten and others don’t? What actually attracts mosquitoes?

Research in the US concluded that genetics account for 85% of the individual susceptibility to mosquito bites, but the concentration of certain acids on the skin can also help to attract the nasty little “vampires”.

Many insects, mosquitoes included, are attracted by the odour of the carbon dioxide (CO2) gas that humans and other animals naturally exhale. However, mosquitoes can also pick up other cues that signal a human is nearby. They use their vision to spot a host and thermal sensory information to detect body heat.

Were you aware that female mosquitoes are the only ones that bite? They need the blood to develop fertile eggs. Males just hang around doing nothing!

If a mosquito finds you to be a tasty “dish”, use hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion or a baking soda paste to ease the discomfort of an itchy bite. A cold pack or baggie filled with crushed ice may help, too.

If the bite is not improving or changing for the worse with these simple methods, or if more serious signs and symptoms appear, such as fever, severe headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands, a rash, lethargy, confusion or sensitivity to light, contact your doctor. Do not wait. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are important.

Anyway, protect yourself and do not panic.

Do not allow the little pests to “destroy” your happy, joyful, summertime activities outdoors.

Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice

By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve