Mosquito bites bring risk of viruses

Pennsylvania is among the states that monitor for viruses including West Nile and Zika.

Mosquitoes are  nasty, often unseen harbingers of itchiness and discomfort. Not until you start to swell and scratch, do you realize you unwillingly donated your blood. And for some, that donation can be accompanied by sickness, illness and disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of vector-borne diseases — those spread by ticks, fleas and mosquitoes — tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016. The number of reported cases grew from about 27,000 to more than 97,000. The CDC also reports nine new diseases identified in this same time period. Some scientists have blamed climate change, and the warming of the planet, on this phenomenon.

You really can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the news without hearing about West Nile virus. While the virus is being found almost daily in birds, the first case of a human infection in Pennsylvania this year was just recently. The virus is being hunted for regularly.

West Nile is carried in our area primarily by the northern house mosquito, or Culex pipiens. While most people have a minute chance of contracting the virus, those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

Simple steps can be taken to reduce your likelihood of illness. Some of these include the use of repellants when outdoors, reduction/elimination of breeding sites and repairing of window screens.

Many communities nationwide, including our own, are treating for mosquitoes. As part of a statewide initiative, Pennsylvania has established a control network to coordinate treatment activities and monitoring for West Nile as well as Zika virus.

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Just when you thought Zika was the last word in mosquito-transmitted viruses, comes new disturbing news. Two new virus strains have been identified. One working north through the Americas, the other potentially here for decades, misidentified and overlooked.

While we in Pennsylvania may feel akin to an illness known as the Keystone virus, this disease was originally identified in Keystone, Florida, in 1964. It commonly infects animals such as deer, raccoons and squirrels. It has been found in coastal areas from Chesapeake to Texas.

In 2016, during the Zika outbreak, a patient thought to have that virus tested negative for it. Researchers scrambled for 18 months before identifying it as Keystone. It was the first documented human case of this virus.

As far back as 1972, one out of five people tested positive for carrying the antibodies. Many individuals throughout the South are thought to have had this misidentified illness. Biotech companies have been on the fast track to develop a quick test.

Another mosquito-borne illness on the radar screen is the Mayaro virus. Originating in Venezuela, this virus has found its way into Haiti. To date, there have not been any confirmed cases of Mayaro in the United States.

Symptoms of the Mayaro virus include fever, chills, headaches and rash. Most discomfort lasts four or five days but can be accompanied by prolonged severe joint pain. Two common species of Florida mosquitoes have shown to be suitable vectors of this disease. They are also known to carry dengue and chikungunya viruses. Their compatibility is part of the concern.

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The warm, humid Florida climate enjoyed by travelers worldwide is raising very valid fears of transmission and dispersion. This, unfortunately, has been a common scenario numerous times over the past decades.

NEXT WEEK: Practical Tips on Backyard Mosquito Control

Henry Fox is the owner of Henry N. Fox Professional Pest Management. You can ask him questions at



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