Aside from being annoying pests, mosquitoes can pose some real risks.
With the current pandemic on everyone’s minds, it’s often easy for other health risks to get overlooked. But one that’s worth taking measures to protect yourself from is the risks posed by these insects.
Whether you live in Miami or not, almost everyone faces challenges from these blood-sucking irritants each year. But in southern Florida, the warm weather makes mosquitoes a persistent challenge.
“Mosquitoes of different species are common year-round in Miami,” says John C. Beier, Sc.D., Chief of the Environment and Public Health at the University of Miami Health System. “Some vector mosquitoes reach their highest levels from June to November. Other vector species reach their peaks around February during our winter months in Miami.”
Bites itch and can make you sick
Aside from being annoying and causing painful, itchy bites, mosquitoes can pose some other risks as carriers of disease.
Dr. Beier identifies the following mosquito-related risks that you should be aware of:
West Nile virus
The biggest current mosquito-borne risk in the Miami area is the West Nile virus. As of the time of publication, the Florida Department of Health has identified 4 cases of West Nile virus in the area. About 80% of cases are asymptomatic. West Nile can lead to pain, fever, fatigue, headache, or even dangerous symptoms in rare cases.
“The finding of human cases in Miami is an indication that there is some active local transmission by mosquitoes,” says Dr. Beier. “Residents should be aware and as possible, protect themselves against being bitten by mosquitoes. Miami-Dade Mosquito Control is aware and is taking steps to control mosquitoes, especially in areas where cases have been reported.”
Dengue, which can cause flu-like symptoms or more severe illness in some, is a greater risk in Central and South America than in the United States, but Dr. Beier says it’s still a risk to be aware of and worth taking precautions to protect yourself. “Last year in Miami, there were locally transmitted cases of dengue,” he says. “It remains a concern because Miami has ideal conditions for vector mosquitoes and because dengue outbreaks are occurring throughout the Americas."
Though Zika infection was a bigger concern several years ago, those risks have largely subsided, at least within the United States. “Zika virus is less of a concern now in contrast to the outbreaks in 2016 because human cases have become fewer and less common in the Americas,” says Dr. Beier.
How you can protect yourself
Luckily, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself from the risks related to mosquito-borne illnesses. Dr. Beier recommends the following strategies:
Remove standing water.
One of the best ways to fight mosquito infestations is to remove the sources or drain standing water from their potential breeding grounds around your home. “Some of the common sources of mosquitoes include flowerpots, buckets, birdbaths, outdoor toys, tires, cans, and bromeliads,” says Dr. Beier.
If you can’t stay indoors, protecting yourself with either clothing or high-quality insect repellent are the way to go. “The CDC recommends that residents use insect repellents and, as possible, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts,” says Dr. Beier.
Call in the professionals.
Finally, Dr. Beier says you can always make a call to the experts to take care of any mosquito problems that you notice in your area. “Residents experiencing mosquito problems can call 311,” he says. “These calls alert Miami-Dade Mosquito Control. As possible, inspectors are sent out to inspect premises, dump water from containers, inform residents, and implement local mosquito control as needed.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
Blood-feeding animals, like ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes, transfer the dengue virus to humans through a bite. In the case of dengue, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is the vector carrier. Read more.