7 scary diseases you can get from a mosquito bite

When mosquitoes bite a person or animal infected with a virus, like Zika, dengue, or St. Louis encephalitis, the skeeter can go on and transmit when they bite another person. That’s scary, considering that these are stealth little buggers that bite you on the sly. However, time for a deep breath. 

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7 diseases you can get from mosquitoes
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7 diseases you can get from mosquitoes
Zika

You might not have heard of Zika until 2016, when the CDC issued a travel alert for places known to have the virus. Particularly concerning was the fact that the Zika virus was linked to microcephaly, a birth defect in which the baby’s head is smaller than normal. The virus is transmitted by a bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Despite the outbreaks, it’s quieted down significantly in 2018. Why? There’s one Zika virus, and you can only get it once. That means people who have already been bitten by infected Aedes mosquitoes are immune, limiting its spread, says Aldstadt. As of May 2018, only 21 cases had been reported in the United States all year, and none were from U.S. mosquitoes—all of those infected had been traveling to affected areas, according to CDC data. Learn why one company decided to release 20 million mosquitoes in California.

West Nile 

This virus is found all over the United States. The good news is that 80 percent of those infected have no or few symptoms. If they notice the infection, the symptoms will be flu-like (fever, headache, body ache); the body usually fights off the virus itself, without treatment. For an unlucky few, West Nile can be life-threatening, because the virus can cause encephalitis and meningitis.

Dengue 

There are four dengue viruses, explains Aldstadt, so getting it once won’t protect against future infections. While the same mosquito species that carries Zika also spreads dengue, people in the United States are rarely at risk unless they travel. Occasionally dengue pops up in the United States, but only in Florida, Hawaii, and areas along the Texas-Mexico border where these mosquitoes thrive, Aldstadt says. Still, transmission is sporadic and doesn’t reach endemic proportions. The disease is a leading cause of death in tropic and subtropic regions, and 2.5 billion people are at risk for dengue in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. If you’re traveling to a place where dengue is endemic, avoiding mosquito bites is your best bet; there’s no vaccine to prevent the virus. Here are 9 immunizations and medications you’ll need before you travel.

Chikungunya

This virus—also from the Aedes aegypti mosquito—causes sudden fever, headaches, and joint pain, which can persist for years. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent or treat chikungunya, which is most commonly found in Africa and Asia, although cases have turned up in the Caribbean and mainland United States. Protecting yourself from bites is your best course of action. Try growing some of the 8 plants that naturally repel mosquitoes.

St. Louis encephalitis (SLEV)

This rare virus infects seven people a year on average, according to the CDC. The areas of the country most commonly affected include Eastern and Central United States. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, and elderly people tend to be at highest risk for complications. Two other types of mosquito-borne encephalitis that pop up around the country include La Cross encephalitis (LACV) in wooded areas in Central and Eastern United States, and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEEV), a danger to people who live in swampy areas.

There’s something unique about mosquito encephalitis

The primary food source for the mosquitoes that transmit encephalitis isn’t humans. For instance, mosquitoes pick up SLEV through birds, while LACV is from chipmunks and squirrels. If these skeeters were to bite you, it’s more of an accident, says Aldstadt. And although they can transmit the disease from an animal host to you, a mosquito that bites an infected human won’t transmit one of these viruses to another human, he notes. (We’re called a “dead end host.”) Thankfully, the lack of human-to-human transmission means these illnesses are unlikely to ever become epidemics. Don’t miss these 12 mosquito-borne diseases you need to know about.

Malaria

Forty percent of the world’s population is at risk for malaria, according to the WHO. Most of the cases are found in Africa; the disease spread by Anopheles mosquitoes is almost nonexistent in the United States. If you’re traveling to a place where the flu-like illness is rampant (like sub-Saharan Africa), ask your doctor whether malaria prevention medication is necessary, and purchase it in the United States before leaving, advises the CDC.

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"While these diseases are in the news, there’s relatively little risk to either people living in the U.S. or traveling abroad,” says Jared Aldstadt, PhD, a medical geographer and expert in the transmission of mosquito-borne illnesses at the University of Buffalo. That said, while the likelihood is low, the risk is real, so having these diseases on your radar is smart. Learn about 10 things that attract mosquitoes.

RELATED: Foods that make you tastier to mosquitoes 

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9 Foods That Make You Tastier to Mosquitoes
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9 Foods That Make You Tastier to Mosquitoes

Learn which 9 foods make you more appetizing to mosquitos!

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Beer

What’s a cookout without a cold one (or two)? There’s always a cooler full to the brim with ice-cold beers at backyard barbeques. A few Heinekens can give you a buzz, but even a single beer can make you a target for mosquitos. Scientists are not exactly sure why mosquitos go for beer drinkers, but they don’t think it has anything to do with the increase in ethanol in the bloodstream or the heightened body temperature caused by beer consumption. Like us humans, mosquitos may just like the taste of a good brew.

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Potassium-rich foods

Bloodsucking mosquitos are extremely attracted to lactic acid. Too bad lactic acid is constantly naturally released by our bodies, making us prime snacks. Eating potassium-rich foods, however, increases the amount of lactic acid you give off through your skin. Bananas, potatoes, prunes, raisins, lima beans, avocados, and spinach are full of potassium, so snacking on these makes you even tastier to the invasive insects. Well, there goes guacamole!

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Salty Snacks

Wiping salty potato chip crumbs on bright beach towels or on denim cutoffs while enjoying the sun is a typical summertime occurrence. Little did you know, eating a high-sodium diet also increases the amount of lactic acid you produce, and more lactic acid means more mosquito bites. Filling up on salty snacks like crispy chips, hot curly fries, roasted peanuts, or even that bacon on your burger, will make you that much more delicious to mosquitos.

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Sweets

Often picnic tables are piled high with tart cherry pies, melty ice cream cakes and sugary candies to celebrate summer. As much as we love these tasty desserts and sweet things, they have a saccharine aroma that is very attractive to most animals, mosquitos included. Not only will the sweets attract sweet–toothed friends and family, they will also act as magnets for bugs and mosquitos.

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Alcohol

A refreshing cocktail or mixed drink will definitely cool you down at an outdoor gathering, but scientists think those who drink alcohol are more likely to attract mosquitos. Not only are they sweet-smelling beverages, the alcohol increases your body temperature, which makes you a target for the little blood-suckers because they are drawn to people with warmer blood. A frozen daiquiri or white sangria sounds super good — until a pesky mosquito bites you.

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High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is not only a health hazard, but having a higher level of cholesterol in your blood increases your appeal to mosquitos. It is always important to lower your bad cholesterol if it is too high and recommended by your doctor. Eating more fruits and veggies, and opting for lean meats can help to lower cholesterol levels. Just think of it as killing two birds with one stone.

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Limburger Cheese

Chomping on Limburger cheese will transform you into a gigantic neon “Eat Me” sign for mosquitos. This variety of cheese is made with the same bacteria that cause feet to stink. This is a super bonus for mosquitos because they love smelly feet. Well that stinks!

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Pickled Vegetables

Picture a perfectly charred hot dog crowned with a heavy dose of tangy sauerkraut, tasty ketchup, and sweet pickle relish. But that sauerkraut and pickle relish can be your downfall. Pickled veggies contain lactic acid, therefore they attract those dreaded mosquitos. Kimchi is another condiment that makes human blood a little sweeter to mosquitos. Maybe a bare hot dog doesn’t taste as bad as itchy bites feel.

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Dairy Products

So many delectable summer favorites, like sweet strawberry ice cream, coconut froyo, delicious Redi-Whip, and layered parfaits, are dairy-based. Unfortunately, these desserts and other dairy goods cause the body to produce lactic acid, which reels in the mosquitos. Guess that means we’ll have eat our ice cream inside to avoid those biting bugs.

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