Mosquitoes are a pesky part of traveling to any Caribbean destination, and many other places for that matter. Not only can mosquitoes leave you with the standard itchy red bumps when they bite, but they can also carry illnesses that may not be common where you live. Don’t let the mosquitoes deter you from enjoying St. Croix, just make sure to protect yourself from mosquito bites and be aware of the symptoms of mosquito-borne illnesses.
For the majority of people, mosquito bites are simply a nuisance that you just want to avoid. Occasionally though, these bites can spread a mosquito-borne illness like Zika, chikungunya, dengue, or West Nile virus. Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito most often responsible for transmission of these illnesses, bites primarily during the day, and is most active for approximately two hours after sunrise and several hours before sunset (but it can bite at night in well lit areas). This mosquito often bites people without being noticed because it approaches from behind and bites on the ankles and elbows.
The best thing anyone can do to combat the possibility of infection is to protect themselves from all mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a helpful Mosquito Bite Prevention for Travelers guide; but, here are a few of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself:
- Use insect repellent. Make sure to look for the following active ingredients when choosing a repellent: DEET, PICARIDIN and IR3535.
- Wear protective clothing including long-sleeved shirts and pants, especially those treated with permethrin.
- Mosquito-proof your home, hotel, or vacation lodging by using the screens on the doors and windows, and using air conditioning when it is available. Also, dump standing water to keep mosquitoes from laying their eggs nearby.
While odds are you will not contract any mosquito-born diseases, it is still important to know what the symptoms are so that you can seek treatment in the event that you do get sick. Here are the common symptoms, transmission methods, and other general information provided by the CDC for the mosquito-borne illnesses most likely to be found on St. Croix:
Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, but can also transmitted by sexual contact, from mother to child, or through blood transfusions. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, red eyes and joint pain. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting from several days up to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, so many people do not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called ” (a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected), as well as other severe brain defects. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. View the CDC fact sheet for Zika.
Chikungunya (pronounced: chik-en-gun-ye) virus is transmitted to people primarily by mosquitoes, and very rarely from mother to child or by infect blood. The most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Symptoms usually begin 3–7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Chikungunya disease does not often result in death, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling. Most patients feel better within a week, but in some cases the joint pain may persist for months. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. View the CDC fact sheet for chikungunya.
Dengue is transmitted between people by mosquitoes. In rare cases dengue can be transmitted in organ transplants or blood transfusions from infected donors, and there is evidence of transmission from an infected pregnant mother to her fetus; but, in the vast majority of infections, a mosquito bite is responsible. Symptoms of dengue infection usually begin 4 to 7 days after the mosquito bite and typically last 3 to 10 days. The principal symptoms of dengue are a high fever and at least two of the following: severe headache, severe eye pain behind the eyes, joint pain, muscle and/or bone pain, rash, mild bleeding manifestation (e.g., nose or gum bleed, petechiae, or easy bruising), or low white cell count. Watch for warning signs as temperature declines 3 to 7 days after symptoms began. Go IMMEDIATELY to an emergency room or the closest health care provider if any of the following warning signs appear: severe abdominal pain or persistent vomiting; red spots or patches on the skin; bleeding from nose or gums; vomiting blood; black, tarry stools, drowsiness or irritability; pale, cold, or clammy skin; or, difficulty breathing. Persons who think they have dengue should use analgesics (pain relievers) with acetaminophen and should NOT take those containing ibuprofen, Naproxen, aspirin or aspirin containing drugs. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. View the CDC fact sheet for dengue.
Please make sure to see your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and you have visited an area where Zika, chikungunya or dengue is found. Your doctor or other healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya. In the case of all three of these illnesses, there is no vaccine and no specific medication to treat them. If you contract any of the aforementioned mosquito-borne viruses, you can treat the symptoms by:
- Getting plenty of rest.
- Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Taking medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce the fever and pain. [Note: Do NOT take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.]
- Avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes in order to keep from passing the disease onto anyone else.
Enjoy your time on St. Croix, but protect yourself from those annoying mosquitoes. For more information on Zika, chikungunya or dengue, please visit the CDC’s website at: www.cdc.gov.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor