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Are Mosquito Bites Dangerous to the Elderly?

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Mosquitoes are, to most people, simply a pesky nuisance and a part of the spring and summer seasons. The female mosquito bites humans and leaves a red bump that can get very itchy. It usually goes away within a few days or a week. But many are now asking: are mosquito bites dangerous to the elderly?

Recently there have been many news stories about people of all ages suffering the effects of bites. However, elderly people are more at risk of developing more serious illnesses from mosquito bites, because their immune systems may be weaker than most.

If the mosquito that bites a person is carrying the West Nile Virus (WNV) or other viruses, they can cause the human they bite to get the virus. This can lead to the person suffering from a mild case of WNV or encephalitis. Both of these illnesses present with flu-like symptoms. Milder cases may cause fever, sore throat, stiff neck, vomiting and muscle aches. These symptoms will usually pass within a few days or a week or two.

The more severe cases can include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Tremors
  • Loss of vision
  • Numbness and paralysis

The more severe cases of the virus may require hospitalization for supportive care like IV fluids, nutritional support, airway maintenance and breathing support.

Special Considerations for the Elderly

Elderly people who are bitten by mosquitoes are more susceptible to the serious cases of WNV and encephalitis or meningitis. At times, these illnesses can lead to permanent neurological damage or even death. Again, this is because elderly people may have weaker immune systems or they may have other conditions that compromise their overall health. Older victims of these diseases can also become extremely dehydrated, have difficulty breathing, experience swollen glands that restrict airways, or just not recover quickly or entirely from their ordeal. Seeking medical treatment is urgently needed in these cases.

Ways to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Everyone, but especially the elderly, should do everything they can to prevent mosquito bites. Since mosquitoes are more likely to bite between dusk and dawn, protect exposed skin during this time if you are going to be outside. It has been thought that since mosquitoes like flowers, it is best to avoid wearing perfume while outside during mosquito season.

  • Wear a good mosquito repellant on exposed skin when outside. The best repellents are those with DEET as an ingredient. It should only be about 7.5% of the product’s total. Put it on your clothing, around the edges of sleeves and edges of your pant legs.
  • It has been reported that people who have consumed alcoholic beverages are more prone to being bitten by mosquitoes also. You don’t have to be a complete teetotaler, but just keep this in mind.
  • Make sure that window and door screens are secure.
  • It is critical to pay attention to your environment as well during the spring and summer months. If you live near a stagnant pond, you may want to take extra precautions to keep mosquitoes away. Mosquitoes breed and lay their eggs in standing water.
  • If you are in an area that has flooding from heavy seasonal rain, you need to take special care as well. Dump out any buckets or other containers that are holding water. If you have a child’s swimming pool, dump the water out when it is not being used. Mosquitoes like to breed in cool, shady areas, especially if there is standing water nearby.

If you are over 65 years old, be aware of the problems that mosquito bites can cause. Most bites are not a major problem, however some mosquito bites in the elderly can pose health risks. If you have other illnesses or your immune system is weak, you are more susceptible to major and potentially life threatening illnesses from mosquito bites. But by taking basic precautionary measures, you can enjoy the warm weather safely.

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