It’s summertime, and a great time to be outdoors with one big, buzzing, bloodsucking exception: mosquitoes.
But it can be much more serious.
The World Health Organization, for one, reports that mosquito-borne diseases annually are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.
That’s why I just had to talk to Dr. Janet McAllister, medical entomologist and the Centers for Disease Control’s top expert on mosquitoes, to get some help in winning the war against the insects.
She researches mosquitoes with the specific intent of controlling them and provided some background on why they should be taken seriously.
“West Nile virus is the most common virus that is spread by mosquitoes in the U.S.,” she said. “It has been found in the past, in all of the lower 48 states.”
I asked specifically if RVers like us have to really be worried about this.
“For most people who might become infected with West Nile virus, they may not even know that they’re infected. The disease itself, ranges in severity, from you don’t know you have it, all the way through neurological damage, paralysis, and maybe even death,” she said.
Translation: Severe cases of the disease are pretty rare.
In fact, she said, you may be surprised to learn that not all mosquitoes are alike; they all don’t have the potential to carry mosquito-borne diseases.
“People think that a mosquito is a mosquito,” McAllister said. “Kind of like if you think about dogs … all dogs are dogs. They may be brown ones and black ones, and big ones, and little ones, and spotted ones, but they’re all dogs. That’s not the case. Mosquitoes are more like birds. People get that a hummingbird is a very different animal from a bald eagle. They eat different things. They do different things. Mosquitoes are the same way. While they all start their life in standing water, and end up as this flying pest, they eat different things, they prefer different types of water. The majority of the mosquito species, actually don’t even feed on humans. There are some mosquitoes that are specialized, so that they only feed on frogs, which they certainly wouldn’t be a problem for us.”
What CAN You Do??
Still, that doesn’t make them any less annoying around camp. So I asked her: What CAN we do to keep the bugs away?
“Wearing mosquito repellent is one of the primary things that you can do to prevent mosquito bites,” she said. “You can also dress with long sleeves, and long pants on. If they don’t have access to your skin, of course, they can’t easily bite through most clothing. If it’s something that’s really light, and gauzy, then, they might be able to bite through that. Mosquito repellents are really the number one line of defense, for not being bitten by mosquitoes.”
We have also talked previously about the effectiveness of RV screens. (Check out the video below for more on screens.)
“If there’s a lot of vegetation around your campsite — tall grass or bushes — some place that adult mosquitoes can find harborage in … those are going to be more likely to have mosquitoes in them that would then come out and bite.
“So, more open areas, as far as vegetation,” she said.
As far as time of day, McAllister essentially said the sunnier, the better.
“The majority of mosquitoes feed either at night, or right around dusk or dawn,” she said. “There are some mosquitoes that will bite any time of day or night. Some of the more pesky mosquitoes, like the Aedes albopictus, or the Asian Tiger mosquito, will bite anytime day or night, but they really don’t prefer to get out of the shade.
“If they’re in the bright sun, that’s gonna be drying on them,” she continued. “That’s going to be detrimental for them. So, they tend to not follow prey out into bright sunny areas. Certainly on a cloudy day, they don’t have that issue, so, they can hunt you during the day, as well.”
Symptoms of Trouble
McAllister said there are specific symptoms that we all need to be aware of when it comes to potentially being infected by a mosquito.
“Some of the symptoms are going to include high fever,” she said. “You may have headaches. Occasionally, there could be a rash. Body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea.
“These viruses cause kind of a flu-like illness,” McAllister added. “Certainly, flu is associated with winter months. If you’re having some sort of flu-like illness in the summer months, if they’re severe enough, you should be going to the doctor, and trying to figure out what is causing those symptoms.”