It’s summertime, and while that means lots of time outside in the sun, it also means lots of something else – bugs! Mosquitos are some of those pesky bugs that come out in the summer and they live all over the country, especially near sources of water. While most of the time mosquito bites are just annoying and cause a mild itch, other times mosquitos can transmit potentially dangerous diseases so it’s important to stay knowledgeable so you know what to look out for. Here is a list of the most common mosquito-borne diseases you should know about this summer. And remember, the best way to avoid getting any of these diseases is to keep insect repellent on you, especially if you’re hiking or otherwise spending a lot of time outside.
West Nile Virus
West Nile virus is the most common disease to be spread to humans from mosquitos in the United States. Luckily, 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus do not have any symptoms at all. The others may develop fever, headache, body aches, fatigue, joint pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, or rash. These symptoms can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications and resolve on their own. However, approximately 1 in 150 people may develop a worse disease that causes inflammation of the brain and nervous system that may even lead to death. If you are experiencing high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, convulsions, stupor, or other serious side effects, it is important to talk to your doctor. The people at highest risk are over the age of 60 and have chronic medical conditions like high blood pressure.
Malaria is a worldwide problem that causes high fevers, chills, sweating, and a flu-like illness. It is a blood parasite and, in some people, it can cause anemia, kidney failure, and death. While some cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year, the vast majority of them are in people who have traveled to other parts of the world where malaria is more prevalent. If you think you may have malaria, see your doctor – there are many different kinds of medications that can be prescribed to fight the disease.
Dengue is also fairly rare in the continental United States but does occur in Puerto Rico and other tropical and subtropical regions. It presents as a fever and severe headache combination that lasts two to seven days. Somebody infected with dengue may also experience muscle and joint pains and gastrointestinal upset. In severe cases, dengue develops into dengue hemorrhagic fever, where blood vessels become “leaky”, causing bleeding. If this stage of dengue is not recognized, it could become fatal. Most people with the early symptoms of dengue fever just need to take acetaminophen to feel better and should avoid taking NSAID pain relievers (like ibuprofen and aspirin).
Watch: How to Repel Mosquitos
Chikungunya is similar to dengue and may cause fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and rash. Most people who are infected get symptoms, but the good news is that chikungunya very rarely becomes severe enough to result in death. Like with dengue, people infected with chikungunya can take acetaminophen to feel better and should avoid other NSAIDs.
Zika has been in the news a lot lately because it seems to be spreading and may be associated with a condition called microcephaly. Microcephaly occurs when a pregnant woman is infected with Zika and results in the child having a smaller-than-normal head. Despite all of this bad press, most people who get Zika actually don’t have symptoms at all or just have a very mild condition including fever, rash, headache, joint and muscle pain, and red eyes. There is no specific treatment for Zika.