Mosquitoes: what you don't know could hurt you.
Each year an average of 1,000 Americans get seriously ill due to a mosquito bite
There are more than 3,000 mosquito species around the world
More than an annoyance, mosquitoes are blood-sucking transmitters of horrific disease. Many scholars postulate that the mosquito is responsible for more human deaths throughout history than any other organism.
In the United States, we tend to be less aware of the deadly role of mosquitoes because we control their population to a great extent. Still, on average, over 1,000 Americans annually experience serious illness or death as a result of a mosquito bite.
To be fair, the mosquito by itself is not the danger. The problem is the bacteria and other parasites carried by the mosquito. The mosquito is simply the delivery mechanism for the parasite – just as a gun is the delivery mechanism for a bullet (except, this gun sucks your blood even when it’s not loaded).
The red, itchy bump at the site of a mosquito bite is your body’s reaction to the mosquito’s saliva – a reaction that occurs regardless of a parasite’s presence.
Quick mosquito facts
- There are over 3,000 mosquito species worldwide
- Over 150 mosquito species inhabit the U.S.
- A relatively small number of species transmit dangerous disease
- Only adult female mosquitoes bite
- A female mosquito needs one blood meal for every batch of eggs she produces
- Mosquitoes feed on nectar, plant juices and decaying plant material
- All mosquitoes have 4 distinct life stages:
- Mosquito eggs require water to hatch into successful larvae
- Mosquito eggs can survive up to 7 years before hatching
- With a 100% survival rate, a single mosquito could be responsible for over 1 billion mosquito descendants in under a month
Close-up views of mosquito life at varying stages.
Fish dine on mosquito larvae.
Mosquito larva molting to pupa.
An adult mosquito emerges
Vector mosquito transmits disease.
A mosquito deposits her eggs.
A raft of mosquito eggs begins hatching.
Mosquito larvae found in abundance in standing water.
Female insect takes her blood meal.
Be sure to avoid outdoor areas where there are warning signs about mosquitoes and West Nile virus
Mosquitoes as vectors
Vectors are organisms that transmit disease. Therefore, mosquitoes are vectors. Diseases they transmit include:
- Dengue fever (rare in the U.S.; 100 million cases worldwide)
- Eastern equine encephalitis (eastern U.S., but rare; 33% mortality)
- Heartworm (threat to dogs throughout continental U.S.)
- Japanese encephalitis (rare outbreaks in U.S. territories in the Pacific)
- La Crosse encephalitis (about 100 U.S. cases annually)
- Malaria (in the U.S., acquired mainly in FL; 1 million deaths annually worldwide)
- Rift Valley fever (endemic to Africa)
- St. Louis encephalitis (4,651 U.S. cases from 1964-2005; 5%-30% mortality rate)
- West Nile virus (663 cases and 30 deaths in the U.S. in 2009)
- Yellow fever (last U.S. epidemic was in New Orleans in 1905)
Water attracts mosquitoes in large numbers
Protecting your family from mosquito-borne disease.
No human vaccines are currently available for most mosquito-borne diseases prevalent in the U.S., (though there are preventive medications for malaria). For the most part, the best way to protect your family from mosquito-borne disease is to protect your family from mosquitoes. Take the following measures and you’ll be off to a good start:
Eliminate standing water.
Tip or turn over plant saucers, children’s plastic toys, wagons, or any other objects that capture water. Toss out water-collecting objects that cannot be tipped or turned over. Remove any outdoor tarps. Clean gutters so standing water will not accumulate. Remove tires as these are a favorite breeding ground of the tree-hole mosquitoes that cause encephalitis. Consult an arborist about ways to fill or protect tree holes without harming the tree. If tires cannot be removed (for instance, if you have tire swing), drill drainage holes in the lowest portion and monitor these holes to assure they don’t become blocked.
Any standing water that cannot be eliminated should be treated. A professional may be able to apply larvacide. If practical, circulate the water, perhaps by adding a fountain. If you have a working swimming pool, run the filter the recommended number of hours per day. Change water in bird baths weekly.
Seek professional mosquito control.
Whether you prefer a repellent or pesticide, mosquito control is best left to a professional. A trained – and in many locales, licensed – professional understands what it takes to do the job effectively while minimizing any environmental impact.
Install or repair screens.
A fly swatter is not effective as a mosquito control solution
Windows or doors left open should be protected by screens to keep mosquitoes from entering the premises. When traveling to an area without screens, use mosquito netting over beds.
Leave quickly when mosquitoes are present.
Swatting at mosquitoes? Leave the area immediately. If dining on a restaurant patio, finish your meal inside the restaurant. If in your backyard, retreat inside your home. Remember, young children and older adults are at increased risk, since many vector-borne diseases are more severe in those age groups.
Practice personal prevention.
Avoid being outdoors in untreated areas at times when mosquitoes are most active. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, long-sleeved and long-legged clothing. Apply a mosquito repellent containing DEET or another proven ingredient. (Note: wash DEET from the skin immediately upon returning indoors. Especially with children, minimize exposure to chemicals such as DEET.) If you do find yourself surrounded by mosquitoes outdoors, don’t just stand there! You may be able to outpace them–though they’ll likely find you again if you slow down or stop.