It’s easy to joke about mosquitoes being the “state bird” of Minnesota because they’re everywhere and dealing with them can feel like an everyday part of life in the summer. Too often, the tendency is to chalk them up to harmless pests and after being bitten by hundreds of them in your lifetime with nothing but an occasional itchy red bump to show, its easy to forget about the risks they can pose.
Mosquitoes are actually one of the most prevalent transmitters of disease in the animal kingdom and being able to recognize the symptoms of the most common mosquito-transmitted diseases in Minnesota can help keep you and your family safe and healthy this summer.
How Do Mosquitoes Carry Diseases?
When a mosquito bites and ingests blood from an infected animal, it may pick up whatever virus that animal is carrying. Many viruses are capable of reproducing inside of mosquitos so when that mosquito later decides to make a meal out of your arm, it can pass whatever virus it’s carrying in to your bloodstream.
If you’ve been watching the news lately you may have heard something about the Zika virus, which is a good example of a disease commonly passed through infected mosquitoes. However, the Zika virus is only one of many diseases that are commonly passed through mosquitoes, which is why it’s important to know the symptoms and signs of diseases that might be prevalent in your area. Contracting a virus from a mosquito doesn’t happen to everyone, but its more common than you think!
There are 4 strains of Encephalitis present in Minnesota. Encephalitis refers to the swelling of your brain which occurs when white blood cells try to attack an infection.
This causes the brain tissue to swell, potentially causing the destruction of nerve cells, bleeding within the brain, and brain damage. Symptoms can be flu-like including:
- Memory loss
- Muscle weakness
- Stiff neck
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, four different types of Encephalitis have been identified within Minnesota, but only one, La Cross Encephalitis (LCE), is ever identified annually with an average of 4-5 cases every year. Two of the other three types, Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), harbor a more severe risk to pets, primarily horses, than humans. The final type identified within Minnesota, St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE), has not been reported in Minnesota since the 1970’s.
Treatment for Encephalitis can be difficult at best, and because the symptoms so closely resemble those of the flu it is occasionally misdiagnosed as such. Mild cases may be treated with bed rest, fluids, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, but more severe cases require intravenous antiviral treatments. There is no single vaccine for encephalitis, so the best way to protect yourself is ensuring your yard is treated for mosquitoes and frequently applying insect repellent, especially if you’re in an untreated area.
West Nile Virus
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, West Nile virus is the most commonly reported mosquito-transmitted disease in Minnesota. It can take the form of encephalitis, which is a direct swelling of the brain itself, or meningitis, which refers to the swelling of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, but in either case it can cause severe illness or injury. Symptoms are similar to those of the flu and can include:
- Body aches
- Skin rash
Between 1999 and 2012, 535 cases of West Nile Encephalitis were reported in Minnesota residents, including 16 deaths. Although 70-80% of people infected will show no symptoms, one in five people will have a relatively mild illness with fever. The best treatment plan for most cases includes rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Severe cases may require supportive therapy, but are uncommon, especially in Minnesota. Like the cases of encephalitis discussed above, the best prevention for West Nile Virus is making sure that your yard is treated for mosquitoes and that you’re keeping that insect repellent stocked and putting it to good use!
Keeping Your Pets Safe
Humans aren’t the only ones at risk for contracting dangerous mosquito-borne diseases. Other animals, primarily dogs, cats, and horses, are in danger of contracting any number of viruses from infected mosquitoes. Heartworms, for example, are one of the most hazardous risks for pet owners across the United States. According to the American Heartworm Society, 2013 saw anywhere between 6-50 cases per clinic across Minnesota alone, and in many parts of the country the number of cases is increasing. Dogs and cats are the at the highest risk for developing heart worms and the American Heartworm Society suggests getting your pet tested every 12 months. Dogs are especially sensitive to heartworms because the worms are able to mature, mate, and produce offspring within a dog’s body. Most worms in a cat’s body rarely mature to the adult stage, although vets still recommend getting your cat regularly tested because even immature worms can cause respiratory damage.
Treatments for dogs and cats differ however, so if your pet tests positive, discuss what options you might have with your vet.
Horse owners in particular have probably heard of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, which can be harmful to both humans and horses. Although EEE is rarely reported in humans, the mortality rate for horses is high, ranging from 70-90%. The virus was first reported in Minnesota in 2001 during a regional outbreak that also included Wisconsin and Iowa. Since then, veterinarians have suggested giving an EEE vaccine to your horse annually and some horse shows may require proof of vaccination.
Keeping You and Your Family Safe
Knowing the risks and keeping an eye on your health are two of the first steps in keeping yourself, your pets, and your family safe. It’s important to remember to wear long sleeves and pants if you’re going to an untreated area, and using lots of insect repellent will help keep the mosquitoes at bay! One of the best ways to keep your household safe however is just to get your entire yard treated for mosquito prevention. Bug lights and citronella candles don’t offer the same amount of protection that a real treatment plan can and it’s easy to get sucked in to a mindset that says there’s nothing you can do. Thankfully, there is something you can do to keep your family safe from mosquito-borne diseases. Call Mosquito Shield today for the ultimate in mosquito prevention and protection.