Mosquito-borne illnesses were at one time viewed as only a problem if you
lived in the tropics or Africa. Now with the prevalence of international
travel, many of these diseases are spreading to new areas of the world
and infecting more people.
Pulse recently spoke with internist and infectious disease specialist
Eric Milefchik, MD, to get the latest on mosquito-borne diseases—from the risks to
prevention strategies—to learn more about how to protect ourselves
and our families.
How concerned should the south bay community be about mosquito-borne diseases?
We’re hearing a lot in the news about mosquito- borne illnesses and
the threats they cause but first, we have to put this information in perspective.
The Zika virus comes on the heels of the Dengue and Chikungunya viruses.
Zika is generally a mild illness in the average person. Only 20% of the
people who become infected with the Zika virus have signs and symptoms
or know that they have it. The population at the biggest risk regarding
Zika is pregnant women. Many times individuals don’t know they have
the virus. The concern regarding pregnant women is the neurological damage
Zika appears to cause in their unborn children.
How do people become infected?
People become infected primarily by being bitten by a disease-carrying
mosquito. There also have been cases of sexual transmission. And as people
engage in global travel, it provides more opportunities for the spread
of infectious diseases and for the spread of the insects that carry them.
One type of mosquito is thought to have entered the U.S. via the tire trade.
Researchers found that mosquitoes hid in the water-holding portion of
used tires that were imported from Asia.
Are the types of mosquitoes that cause the Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya
viruses indigenous to the South Bay?
The mosquitoes that cause Zika, Dengue and Chikunguna viruses are known
asthe Aedes species. The specific type of Aedes mosquito that causes Zika
has been found in LA county. This raises the potential for Zika to spread
here. However, the good news for the South Bay is that our climate is
not a good one for the life cycle of the mosquito that causes Zika. Currently
this mosquito does not reproduce well here due to our weather. And since
there aren’t enough of them here, it makes it difficult for the
mosquito population to grow in number and infect people. The cases we
have seen here are of people who have traveled to areas where these illnesses
are indigenous—they were bitten by disease-carrying mosquitoes in
other locations and either became sick while they were there or upon their
return home in the U.S.
What are the typical symptoms of these illnesses?
The symptoms generally have an abrupt onset and are usually headache, fever,
rash, muscle aches (myalgias) and joint pain (arthralgia). The rashes
and joint paincan bevariable from person toperson. Also there is some
variation with the symptoms between these three viruses. The incubation
period for these diseases is fairly short, from two to 14 days, with the
average being about one week—from the time someone is infected,
to the time they feel ill.
What are the general durations of these illnesses and the prognosis if infected?
For most people, symptoms usually resolve in approximately one week. With
Chikungunya, however, some people can have joint pain for as long as one
month or more.
What type of medical treatment should someone expect to receive if they
become infected with one of these viruses?
The focus of medical treatment is supportive: to provide comfort and reduce
the severity of symptoms.
West Nile virus has been in the South Bay for several years now. How concerned
should people be about this virus?
The number of West Nile Virus cases has risen. The Culex species of mosquito
causes West Nile virus and it is endemic here. So it’s important
to avoid getting mosquito bites. These mosquitoes generally bite in the evening.
What can South Bay residents do to protect themselves while at home and
It’s best to wear loose fitting clothing, long sleeves and pants.
If you’re travelling to an area where these viruses are endemic,
use approved topical agents on your skin and clothes.
The CDC has a list of recommended EPA-approved products that can be found
at: cdc.gov. Other helpful mosquito control measures are to avoid having
standing water outside and in your home, and ensuring all doors and windows
have screens that are in well repair.