Mozzies. Skeeters. Whichever name you use the mosquito is an ancient pest, a summer nuisance to those unlucky enough to be outdoors after dark.
Scientists estimate that mosquitoes evolved 170 million years ago, and from fossil records were three times the size of their current descendants.
Primarily nectar feeders, the females of most mosquito species require a blood meal for egg development and laying. Any mammal is fair game. Humans, livestock, and pets are all easy prey for this winged vampire.
Mosquitoes transmit disease and illness to an estimated 69 million people globally each year. To most North Americans the mosquito is a simple pest.
In many parts of the world this insect is deadly, spreading malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile Virus. Each year, Malaria kills an estimated 5.3 million children under the age of five.
While they cannot pass HIV, mosquitoes can transmit a host of other viruses, including Ross River Fever, Yellow Fever, Rift Valley Fever, and epidemic polyarthritis.
The mosquito emits a high-pitched buzz, enough to drive a grown man to tears after a long night of repeated attacks. Their bites cause little or no pain because of their serrated proboscis and their chemically-charged saliva.
Some people grow immune to the hives related to mosquito bites as they age. Others are extremely sensitive, with a bite causing massive swelling and bruising.
Protecting yourself and your loved ones over summer months is easy if a few preventative steps are taken:
- Try to be indoors during peak mosquito hours, one hour before dusk and one after before dawn.
- If outdoors, use a mosquito repellant on exposed skin. Repellants containing the chemical DEET are the most effective.
- Wear light-colored clothing and a hat. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark and floral colors.
- Body odor can attract mosquitoes. Avoid the use of perfumed soaps, lotions, and hair-care products.
- Remove any standing water from around your home or camp. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Empty bucket of rainwater, bird baths, and check your gutters for clogs.
- Citronella candles and other products may be useful to help prevent mosquitoes while outdoors.
If you are unlucky enough to be bitten, mosquito bites can be treated in a number of ways. Commercially available products aimed at treating insect bites can offer relief.
Calamine lotion, or creams containing hydrocortisone or triamcinolone can help stop the itching. Oral antihistamine medications can also help.
Simple household items can be a low-cost remedy. A steaming-hot cloth applied to a bite will help relieve the itching for several hours.
Some people believe that toothpaste, white, not striped, is effective in removing the troublesome itch mosquitoes leave behind.
Remember, the best treatment is prevention.