Managing mosquitoes -- before they bite

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When it comes to mosquitoes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and experts say that prevention should start early.

"We should clean gutters, get rid of old tires and change bird baths on a weekly basis as female mosquitoes have to lay their eggs in stagnant water," said Daniel Crable, a family practice physician at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Jefferson Hills.

Other steps for eliminating venues for mosquitoes -- which can lay up to 300 eggs at a time -- include: covering rainwater barrels with a fine screen; emptying children's wading pools every couple of days; monitoring flowerpots; draining water from pool covers; cleaning and chlorinating outdoor saunas and covering when not in use; and removing refuse that might collect stagnant water.

Mosquitoes have four distinct life cycle stages, and the first three occur in water. In the final stage, which occurs after about two weeks, the new adult mosquito takes flight. A typical lifespan is up to three months.

Since mosquitoes prefer a warm, moist environment, they are active from early summer until late fall in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Crable noted that even the best plans -- such as using insect repellent -- are not foolproof when it comes to limiting mosquito bites at this time of year.

He said female mosquitoes are the ones that consume the blood of humans and animals because they need the protein for their eggs to reproduce. To do so, they bite or sting -- although neither word is entirely accurate.

The females cut their way through our skin using long, thin pointed instruments kept in a protective sheath. The sheath contains a duct that carries anticoagulant into the wound and a tube that transports the blood out.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mosquito bites can cause skin irritation through an allergic reaction to the mosquito's saliva and that is what causes the red bump and itching.

A more serious consequence of some mosquito bites may be the transmission of diseases such as malaria or West Nile virus.

For an insect bite or sting, the American Red Cross recommends the following:

• A person who has been bitten or stung will feel pain. Check for a bite mark or stinger and swelling and/or bleeding.

• Stingers, which are not present in mosquito bites, should be removed by scraping the skin with a flat surface or by carefully using tweezers, being sure to grab the base of the stinger to avoid squeezing the venom sac.

• Wash the wound with soap and water, cover with a dressing and then apply ice or a cold pack.

• Call 911 or the local emergency number if the person appears to be having an allergic or anaphylaxis reaction.

For mosquito bites, Dr. Crable said, a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion may also be applied.

Most mosquito bites stop itching and heal on their own without medical treatment. For that reason, they should not be scratched because a secondary infection could develop, he said.

Dr. Crable said while there is no evidence that a particular blood type is more likely to attract mosquitoes, a larger body size does seem to matter.

And, if you are moving around a lot, generating more heat, you could prove irresistible to mosquitoes because they are attracted to heat and smells, he said.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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