It’s mosquito season in eastern Massachusetts. The little nuisances are buzzing in our ears and causing those itchy bites. Most mosquito bites are more annoying than dangerous and can be treated with over-the-counter topical steroids, antihistamines and anti-inflammatories. But some bites can result in serious and sometimes deadly illnesses. Mosquitos can carry West Nile Virus or Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Transmission of these infections to humans is rare, but knowing what to watch for and how to protect yourself and your family is an important part of summer safety.

West Nile Virus
There were five human cases of West Nile Virus reported in Middlesex County last year, and in 2015, the first instance of an infected mosquito was recently detected in western Massachusetts.

Twenty percent of people who are infected with West Nile Virus will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile Virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

Less than one percent of infected people will develop a serious neurologic illness, such as encephalitis or meningitis, that presents with headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends reporting dead birds to local public health officials as this can be a sign that West Nile Virus is circulating in your area.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)
People over age 50 and under age 15 seem to be at highest risk for developing severe disease when infected with EEE.

Signs and symptoms in encephalitic patients are fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, turning blue, convulsions and coma.

If you suspect yourself or a loved one to be developing symptoms of West Nile Virus or EEE seek medical attention immediately.

Prevention is the key to keeping mosquitos away
Here are some tips to keep mosquitos away:

  • Wear mosquito repellent with DEET when outdoors.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits.
  • Keep screen doors and window screens in good repair.
  • Mosquitos are most active from dusk to dawn, so limit your time outdoors once it gets dark.
  • Mosquitoes can lay eggs even in small amounts of standing water. Get rid of mosquito-breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels and tires. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Empty children's wading pools and store on their side after use.

--Angelo Pucillo, PA-C, is the assistant chief physician assistant in the emergency department at Hallmark Health System.

This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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