Bugs can sometimes be the bane of your summer. They land on food. Some fly into your eyes. They cause itchy bites. And, of course, some carry illnesses. That’s why, every summer, it’s essential to wear bug spray and take other precautions to avoid being bitten. But this summer, two specific illnesses are worrying health professionals.
Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) causes high fevers. Public health officials in Massachusetts and New Jersey who test mosquitoes for illnesses detected it much earlier in the season than they usually do. The discovery led them to worry about the number of people (and horses) who will be infected in the east.
Public health departments are worried that, because of the pandemic, resources may not be available if people become ill with the potentially deadly EEE.
“It’s unnerving,” said Scott Crans, who heads up mosquito control efforts for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “It could signal a busy year.”
Additionally, in Texas, areas are spraying for West Nile. It has been detected in mosquitoes. Just like EEE and COVID-19, a high fever is one of the symptoms. They can all be confused with each other making them harder to treat and harder to track.
“With COVID being such a big issue that it is, we’re starting to see more of those mild symptoms in people with COVID, fever, body aches, similar to what you’d see in West Nile fever,” Williamson County’s Vector Management Program Lead, Jason Fritz said. “But when you go to the doctor, it seems that more questions are geared toward the pandemic… As a public health professional, it does scare me a little bit with starting to see West Nile Virus in our mosquito population that if we’re not able to get as much surveillance on the human side of it, that does make it harder to control from a public health standpoint.”
Many areas just aren’t sure how much danger mosquito-borne illnesses pose this year. For instance, Salt Lake City’s mosquito abatement team donated their extractor machine to a hospital to aid the fight against COVID-19. They have only recently gotten more testing materials to ramp up their detection of West Nile.
Because resources are stretched thin, it’s vital to take care of yourself. If you become ill, ask your doctor if you may have a mosquito-borne illness. After months of looking for COVID-19, they may miss the differences. Just pointing out that it’s a possibility could make them realize your symptoms are something less topical than COVID-19.
For COVID-19, handwashing, masks, and social distancing are your biggest weapons against becoming ill. For EEE and West Nile, get rid of any stagnant water around your house, make sure your drains and gutters are clear. Add a small amount of liquid soap to any water in a kiddie pool or other outdoor body of water you have. It breaks the surface tension so that insects cannot breed there, and larvae will die. As little as one milliliter of soap per gallon does the trick. Be sure your screens on windows and doors don’t have any holes in them. Wear long sleeves and pants.
And, finally, keep the bugs away with bug spray. Even if mosquitoes and other biting bugs in your area aren’t carrying a disease, you’ll enjoy your evening more when you don’t itch!