By Frank Fraunfelter, MD, FACEP
Medical Director, Emergency Services – Munroe Regional Medical Center
While Zika cases identified in the U.S. are still primarily related to travel outside the country, the threat has reinforced the importance of preventing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes spread many types of viruses and parasites that can cause diseases.
West Nile virus (WNV) is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms. Less than 1% of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurological illness.
To minimize your chance of being bitten, limit your outdoor activities from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are most active. If you do go outside, cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing –treating clothes with permethrin or another EPA-registered insecticide can provide extra protection.
Use an insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients – DEET; Picaridin, also known a KBR 3023, Bayrepel and icaridin; oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol; or IR3535. Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) should not be used on children under three years of age.
Helping children avoid bites
Insect repellent should not be used on babies younger than two months. Instead, dress infants or small children in clothing that covers arms and legs, or cover the crib or baby carrier with mosquito netting.
Follow guidance on the package before applying insect repellent on children – spray it onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face. Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands, mouth, cut or irritated skin.
Once You’ve Been Bitten
Even the best preventative measures probably won’t protect you from all bites. In the case of a normal reaction, a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion will provide relief from itching. A cold pack, ice cubes or a cool bath without soap may help relieve symptoms as well.
For more serious allergic reaction, oral antihistamines such as Benadryl or Claritin, topical anti-itch lotion or benzocaine, a cool bath without soap or an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) in case of anaphylaxis may be used to treat your reaction.
If you experience fever, severe headache, body aches, nausea or vomiting, rash, confusion or neurological changes such as muscle weakness on one side of the body, contact your doctor. These could be signs of a more serious reaction.
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