CATES: Beware of mosquitoes this year

“It’s a bird, no, it’s a plane…” I wish I could say “No, it’s Superman!”  But instead, I hate to say it, but “no, it’s a mosquito!”

We have had wonderful rains this year. We are greener in July than I have seen in ages, but with that the mosquitoes are out in droves. I don’t know how you feel about them, but I hate mosquitoes!

I am one of those people that mosquitoes seek out to feed on, and when I do get bit by a mosquito, I always get a welt the size of a quarter.  Unfortunately, since mosquitoes are rare for us, we also don’t have much experience in dealing with mosquitoes themselves, and worse, the diseases they can transmit.

So, today I thought I would talk a little bit about mosquitoes, how to prevent, first aid for those uncomfortable mosquito bites, and symptoms of some of the mosquito-borne illnesses we could see in West Texas.

The best strategy for mosquitoes is the same as it is for so many of the things we deal with in healthcare: prevention. The first step is to stop mosquitoes from reproducing.

I knew mosquitoes bred in standing water, but I didn’t know until recently they only need a tablespoon of standing water to breed. Think of all the places standing water could collect around you home, even in small amounts, and empty that water or create drainage from those areas so the water doesn’t collect.

If that is not possible, consider mosquito larvicides, but remember those chemicals can have health concerns for you, kids, or animals, so please follow directions carefully. For things like pet water bowls, change the water daily. Make sure pools, spas, and hot tubs are properly maintained with saltwater or chlorinated water so mosquitoes cannot use them as breeding grounds.

The next step in prevention is preventing mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recommend using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellant.

When used as directed, EPA registered insect repellants are safe for everyone, including children and pregnant women. The ones best for mosquitoes contain one of the following ingredients: DEET, Picardin (known as KBR 3023 and/or icaridin outside the US), IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone.

The EPA has a great tool for finding the right mosquito and other insect repellants for you at

This site also discusses natural mosquito repellants. Clothing is important, too. Wear clothes that cover arms and legs. With babies, use mosquito netting or other fabric covers on strollers and baby carriers.

Be careful about using mosquito repellants on children’s hands, eyes, mouths, cuts, or irritated skin.  The best way to apply mosquito repellant for a child’s face is to spray onto your hands and then apply to their face keeping away from their eyes and mouth.

First aid for mosquito bites starts the same as with almost all wounds, first, wash the area gently with soap and water, and keep the site clean and dry. Ice packs help decrease swelling, but do not apply ice for more than 10 minutes at a time to avoid ice “burns.”

A mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda with just enough water for form a paste applied to the area for 10 minutes can reduce itching as can many over the counter anti-itch or antihistamine creams. Follow directions carefully on over-the-counter products. Scratching mosquito bites can cause them to become infected, so avoid scratching if possible, cover bites if scratching cannot be avoided like with small children.

Fortunately, most of the severe mosquito-borne illnesses are not common in the U.S., and cases we see are usually related to international travel. But that is not always true, illnesses like West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) have been found in mosquitoes here in Texas.

Symptoms of mosquito-borne illness are very similar to many viral illnesses: headache, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, and/or rashes on the chest, back and stomach. If you are seeing any of those symptoms, please visit your primary health care provider.