Mosquito Bites: From Annoying to Deadly
The mosquito is a member of the fly family. With two wings and bodies with hair-like scales, they’re big enough that we can easily see them with the naked eye. Males have feathery antennae that help them sense the presence of female mosquitoes. The antennae of the females have light hair, but are plainer than that of the males. Males usually live for about a week, while females can live for a few months. These creatures may be small and have a short lifespan, but they can wreak havoc on human lives.
Mosquito Habitat and Habits
Mosquitoes live in grass and bushes located close to where humans live. The mosquito’s favorite breeding ground is standing water. They gather in neglected birdbaths, pools, clogged rain gutters, storm drains, or any container that holds water.
Males don’t bite humans. Both males and females feed on nectar and water, but females must also feed on blood in order to reproduce. In the process, mosquitoes can transmit disease between animals and humans, and from human to human as well.
How Mosquitoes Bite
Mosquitoes choose their human victims based on the scent of carbon dioxide and other chemicals in your perspiration. The female mosquito’s mouth has long, tubular parts that allow them to pierce human skin and feed on blood. When a mosquito bites, it injects saliva into the skin while it is siphoning blood. The saliva contains proteins that most people are allergic to. Your immune system springs into action, causing the telltale red bump and accompanying itch.
What a Mosquito Bite Looks Like
Almost immediately after a mosquito bite, you’ll notice a round, puffy bump, perhaps with a small dot at the center. The bump soon becomes red and hard, with a small amount of swelling. It is not uncommon to have multiple bites occurring around the same time. Children may have a stronger reaction than adults. If you have an impaired immune system, you may experience a more severe reaction, including hives, a large patch of swelling and redness, or swollen lymph nodes.
Symptoms of Mosquito Bite
Many people feel a stinging sensation as the mosquito pierces the skin. After that, the most annoying symptom of a mosquito bite is itching. Most of the time, the reaction to a mosquito bite is quite mild and goes away within a few days, although it may be more bothersome for children. Rarely, a severe allergic reaction can cause body aches, headache, and fever.
Treating Mosquito Bites
Wash mosquito bites with soap and warm water. If you have a lot of mosquito bites, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamines, or topical anti-itch medications to control pain and itching. An ice pack can provide relief from severe itching. If your child has itchy mosquito bites, make sure you keep their fingernails short and advise them not to scratch. It’s rare for anyone to have a severe allergic reaction to a mosquito bite, but contact your doctor if you develop body aches, headache, or fever. These may be symptoms of mosquito-borne disease.
Mosquitoes carry viruses and parasites in their saliva. When they bite, mosquitoes can transmit severe and even life-threatening illness. They are known carriers of West Nile virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis, among other diseases. Although malaria is rare in the U.S., mosquitoes transmit malaria to 200 million people around the world each year, and mosquito-borne diseases have killed more people than all the wars in history.
HIV and hepatitis cannot be transmitted through mosquitoes.
Preventing Mosquito Bites
You can’t prevent mosquito bites entirely, but you can decrease your chances of getting bitten. Mosquitoes breed in water, so try to avoid having standing water near your home. Empty anything that holds stagnant water. Change the water in birdbaths once a week and empty children’s wading pools when not in use. Keep grass and vegetation near your home well trimmed. Install good screens for your windows. When in wooded areas, wear long sleeves and long pants, and use insect repellent. To help prevent mosquito-borne illness, make sure your vaccinations are up to date before traveling to foreign countries.
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