Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Lifestyles

June 30, 2014

Fight the bite!

CROSSVILLE — Mosquito bites were part of my childhood summertime experience. Itchy bumps were the price paid for failing to heed Mother’s warning to head for home before the streetlights came on. In 2014 a mosquito bite might cause nothing more than itching and skin irritation at the bite site, but a number of mosquito-borne maladies now seen in the United States can be deadly.

Current-day mosquito breeds known to carry serious diseases bite both in daytime and at night. There are no cures nor are there vaccines to prevent humans getting viruses that mosquitos spread. Reducing mosquito breeding spots (in other words, standing water) around your yard and neighborhood combined with personal bite prevention efforts, are your best line of defense. Use insect repellents and wear protective clothing while outdoors whether in your own backyard, at travel locations or on a job site. The Tennessee Health Department West Nile Virus webpage http://health.state.tn.us/ceds/wnv/wnvhome.asp has more information.

Our recent warm, wet weather fosters higher mosquito populations. Water is critical to the mosquito life cycle. Eggs laid in standing water become larvae in puddles, ponds, ditches or artificial containers like old tires or flower pots. The "wrigglers" feed and grow shedding their older, smaller outer skins three times. A fourth stage larva forms a pupa within which over three or four days, the larva becomes an adult mosquito.

Both adult males and female mosquitos feed on nectar and plant juices. Females must also have a blood meal to ensure their eggs will develop so they are the ones who bite. A mosquito pokes her sharp proboscis through skin to a blood vessel, injects saliva to help with insertion and prevent blood clotting and then sucks blood. If blood drawn from a bird, warm-blooded animal or human contains disease organisms or parasites, they may infect the insect’s body. Once infected, that mosquito becomes a vector/carrier and may pass the disease and/or parasite on to other susceptible bite-victims.

Mosquito-transmitted sicknesses include dog heartworm, West Nile Virus (WNV), LaCrosse Encephalitis (LAC), Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) and St. Louis Encephalitis. In most cases mosquito-borne infections attack the victim’s body but not the central nervous system causing no symptoms or a mild illness including fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain and/or a rash.

However, sometimes a transmitted virus inflames the spinal cord and brain causing encephalitis. (This is termed a "neuroinvasive" infection.) Symptoms may be severe fever, lethargy, altered mental status, lack of coordination, abnormal reflexes, paralysis, convulsions and/or stiff neck which require hospital care. Some patients die. Others may live with permanent damage for the rest of their lives.

The risk of severe disease is typically greater for babies, adults over 65 and people with pre-existing medical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. In 2013, WNV was the most common mosquito-borne virus in the United States (1,267 cases). Children were most commonly afflicted with LaCrosse virus. Eastern Equine Encephalitis was rare, but the most severe disease transmitted to humans, with a 50-percent fatality rate.

This spring a very serious new mosquito-borne disease known as the Chikungunya virus (Chikv) has been making news. According to Dr. Abelardo Moncayo, director of vector-borne diseases for the Tennessee Department of Health, two mosquitos that can carry Chikv, the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and the Yellow Fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) are found in every county in Tennessee and throughout the southeastern states.

The potential for outbreaks in our state are high. Infection begins three to seven days after an infected mosquito bites. Primary symptoms are a sudden fever over 102 degrees along with crippling joint and muscle pain that could last for weeks. Other possible symptoms include headaches, joint swelling and rash.

• • •

Plateau Gardening written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) answers to horticulture questions, free publications and to learn about the Master Gardener program. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae (MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net).

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