How to avoid mosquitoes and keep you and your pets safe

This entry is article 4 of 6 in the September 2013 issue

People naturally try to avoid mosquitoes, since no one wants the uncomfortable itching that results from most bites. Reported cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and the West Nile virus are two possible deadly mosquito borne-illnesses, and are serious reasons to take increased measures to keep you—and your pets—safe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EEE is the most dangerous virus spread by insects, spiders, or other arthropods in North America. Its fatality rate in humans is 35 percent, and it affects not only people, but horses and dogs as well.

Likewise, West Nile is a virus that affects birds as well as humans, and some cases of dogs contracting the disease have also been reported, as it is the most common vector-borne illness next to Lyme disease.

While EEE is seen predominantly in southeastern, central, and northeastern Massachusetts, particularly in areas with red maple and white cedar swamps, West Nile virus is typically transmitted from the mosquito species found near houses (a species that breeds in a quarter-inch or more of standing water in gutters, garden pots, and other vehicles with some rain catchment). Both diseases can result in encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which can then lead to coma, convulsions, or death.

“The key to prevention is protection,” according to Sam R. Telford, III, an infectious disease expert at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Telford provides the following tips on how to avoid mosquitoes and the diseases they may carry:

  • Always wear mosquito repellent that contains DEET. Follow the directions on the label, and never use DEET on infants; use less than 15% concentration for children; and less than 35% concentration for adults. Sprays do not work as well as creams, lotions, or sticks.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and use mosquito netting around strollers.
  • Avoid being outdoors between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

Around your house, you should:

  • Remove sources of standing water around your home, including trash cans, old tires, birdbaths, pool covers and wading pools, and recycling containers, or at least empty the containers when water collects.
  • Clean roof gutters.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects in your yard.
  • Fix holes in screens and make sure they are tightly attached to all your doors and windows.
  • Keeping swimming pools clean and chlorinated.
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