Prevention is Protection

More years ago than I want to admit, I remember my professors in college talking about “The Global Economy” and “The Global Society.”  

While there would still be individual countries, we learned that goods and services would be traded globally. The economy would be intertwined worldwide. People would travel extensively. The possibilities for wealth, understanding, and education would be amazing. 

The world would, in a matter of speaking, become a lot smaller.

And while there are many good things resulting from this global society, the summer of 2014 shows us one of the downsides. New diseases are finding their way into the U.S. To make matters worse, there are no vaccines to protect us.

Dengue fever is a viral infection that is transmitted through the bite of an Aedes mosquito. It’s primarily found in the tropics, but there are now outbreaks reported in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys.

Chikungunya is another viral disease that is also spread through a mosquito bite, but this insect is the Albopictus mosquito. It’s also called the Asian tiger mosquito and is mostly found in Asia, Africa, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. However it has now been spotted in the Caribbean.

This isn’t to say mosquitoes are suddenly super-strong and able to fly long distances.

What’s happening is that travelers who have been bitten by mosquitoes in other countries return to the U.S. where they are bitten by a mosquito here. The mosquito picks up the virus from the tired traveler and then spreads the virus when it bites another person. That starts a new infection cycle. What’s even more troubling is that the virus can spread quickly, because the mosquitoes that spread these viruses are endemic in 31 states.

A check of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on July 31, 2014 found the reported cases of Chikungunya went from 497 cases to 601 in one week.

The best protection is prevention. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Eliminate any standing water outside around your house where mosquitoes can breed. The insects don’t need much water so check pots and planters.
  • Keep the air conditioning on when you sleep. If you want to leave the window open, be sure to have a screen in it.
  • If you are going to be outside, wear long-sleeve shirts and pants if possible.
  • If t-shirts and shorts are in order, be sure to apply insect repellents containing DEET. Apply it on your skin, but also on your clothes at the cuffs, neck, and sleeves. Mosquitoes can slip just inside the clothing to bite.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

Related Resources: