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Mosquitoes in your world? Yea or nay? - (6/26/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Mandy came into the pharmacy and asked the pharmacist, “Look at these mosquito bites on my arms and legs. All we were doing was sitting on the deck last night. Where’s the calamine lotion?” Ah, the juicy days of July! Barbeques, beaches, and bugs! One can understand the usefulness of honeybees. One can admire the presence of ladybugs. One can even marvel at the gracefulness of the praying mantis. But mosquitoes? Are they good for anything? These otherwise annoying insects are beneficial in that they help keep balance in the animal world. Mosquitoes serve as food for frogs, fish, birds, bats, and many other animals. Mosquitoes are also important because they pollinate plants, such as blueberry bushes, celery, dill, carrots, and even orchids.

Yet, mosquitoes are believed to be the deadliest animals on the planet. Diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites are transmitted by mosquitoes. They can spread diseases without being affected themselves. Nearly 700 million people get a mosquito-borne illness each year resulting in over one million deaths. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, yellow fever, Zika fever, and many types of encephalitis. Geography and weather conditions affect mosquito activity. However, entomologists are warning that global warming will increase the spread of mosquito populations and by providing mosquito-friendly habitats. The direct effects of temperature increase are an uptick in mosquito development, virus development, and mosquito biting rates.

Diseases once rare in the continental US are becoming more frequent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, in 2017, there were 2,002 reported cases of West Nile Virus and 121 deaths across the US, according to the CDC. US cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever—also known as “breakbone fever” for the feeling it gives its victims—rose by 70% in 2012 as compared with 2011. The dengue fever virus thrives in tropical and sub-tropical environments. The increased warming predicted for the southern US, along with increased flooding, means dengue fever will no doubt be spreading north on the backs of mosquitoes into states that never imagined having to deal with such exotic outbreaks. 

Although the mosquito has been a known vector for spreading global disease, there is some hope that mosquito saliva may be used for the treatment of the Number 1 worldwide killer of humans: cardiovascular disease. One promising application is the development of anti-clotting drugs. Mosquitoes possess enzymes in their saliva needed to break down the blood once they siphon it from their host. 

While tropical disease vaccines are in development, take basic precautions to minimize the chances of getting mosquito bites. Keep screens on all the windows and doors in the house. Outside, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when possible and cover up with an insect repellent—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says only those formulations containing the chemical DEET have been proven effective but there are plenty of natural alternatives available. 

Mandy was right to ask the pharmacist for calamine lotion. Traditionally, calamine lotion is used as a simple, inexpensive, and effective remedy for a variety of different skin conditions and irritations caused by poisonous plants as well as for rashes, sunburn, and insect bites such as those from mosquitoes.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com  


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