Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


July 7, 2014

PLATEAU GARDENING: Mosquito bites endanger people and pets

CROSSVILLE — Hopefully, this series will help readers better understand the potential for infection from mosquito and tick bites, recognize habitat where infected ticks or mosquitoes may be found and prompt use of products and methods for preventing bites to you and those you love (whether they have two legs or four).

Statistics on infection do not have the impact of personal experience. I know a lady for whom a single bite was life-changing. My friend’s doctors believe the neuroinvasive illness which caused her seizures, encephalitis (brain inflammation) and time in a coma started with a mosquito bite. She survived but could not return to work as a nurse and needs anti-seizure meds.

Primary bite prevention for people involves use of insect repellents. Products with DEET can be used on skin and hair. Spray the product on your hand and apply as directed on the label to protect children. A repellent containing 0.5 percent permethrin (a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide) is suitable for use on clothing and gear but not on skin. Spray shoes, pant cuffs and socks about two hours before wearing those items. Prior to traveling, check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to find updates on regional disease patterns and outbreaks, Be sure to pack repellent if you will be outdoors in risky settings during peak exposure times.

While there are no vaccines to protect people from mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever, Chikungunya, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) or West Nile virus, there are vaccines to prevent EEE and West Nile virus in horses. Our dog, Cocoa, the chocolate lab, gets a monthly treatment to prevent heart worm and another to kill ticks and fleas. The New York Animal Medical Center web page cites heartworm as the most serious mosquito borne disease for cats and dogs.

Mosquito bites may transmit microscopic worms to a pet’s bloodstream. These parasitic worms are called heartworms because they live and grow in canine or feline hearts and pulmonary arteries. Eventually the worm can clog the heart causing sudden death. See an online veterinarian newsletter entitled "Protecting Pets from Mosquito-Borne Diseases" by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).

Creating a mosquito-free environment around your home can be difficult with the rainfall we have had this year, but getting rid of stagnant water is important in the fight against mosquito borne illnesses. Blood thirsty mosquitos don’t travel long distances to find victims. In as little as four days (when temperatures are warm), mosquitos go from egg to adult. Breeding can occur in bottles, plastic or ceramic flower pots and any saucers under them, swimming pool covers and/or polytarps.

Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers or animal feeders kept outside, so water doesn’t collect in them. Clogged drain pipes can turn water-filled roof gutters into mosquito breeding grounds. Keep gutters cleaned out. When not in use turn plastic wading pools, buckets and wheelbarrows face down. Water gardens, rain barrels and birdbaths should either have the water changed twice each week or be treated with a biological mosquito-larvae killer called Mosquito Dunks (the product is shaped like little doughnuts, floats on water and is commonly sold in hardware stores and garden centers). Mosquito Dunks do not contain poison, so they can be used for organic production and are safe for fish habitats. Ornamental ponds can be aerated, stocked with fish that eat mosquito larvae or may also be treated with Mosquito Dunks. 

Tick bites may also transmit diseases. Read more on dealing with ticks next week.

• • •

Plateau Gardening is 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) for 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 (

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