The arrival of summer brings longer days, warmer temperatures and increased opportunity for outdoor activities. It also brings the opportunity for infections transmitted via insect bites. Among these infections are the arboviruses.
Arbovirus is a general term used to describe a variety of viral infections transmitted by infected arthropods. Among these are mosquitoes and ticks. The symptoms vary between the extremes of mild joint pain to life threatening brain infections.
Although Lyme disease presents with similar symptoms to arboviruses, it is the result of a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics.
The frequency of encountering these viruses varies on geography. The most common arboviruses in the northeast include West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Powassan Virus Disease.
Initial symptoms of each of these infections include fever, rash, headache and joint pain. Fortunately, in most cases, these symptoms are self-limited. Treatment is primarily symptomatic with hydration, rest and anti-inflammatory medications.
More serious symptoms occur when the infection attacks the central nervous system resulting in encephalitis. These symptoms include persistent headache, confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for viral encephalitis.
Golfers, hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers are most susceptible to infection based on their level of exposure. The best way to avoid infection is by wearing long-sleeved, light-colored clothing with pant legs tucked into socks. Frequently applying insect repellant with DEET to exposed surfaces is recommended.
As in most viral infections, elderly and very young patients are at highest risk.
“Insect repellant should never be applied to newborns and young children should not use products with more than 30 percent DEET,” reports Dr. Ashok Kottarathara, a local pediatrician in practice at United Community and Family Services. “Wristbands, smartphone apps and sonic repellents do not work against mosquitoes. Removal of all stagnant or standing water is another extremely effective way of preventing breeding of mosquitoes”.
Avoiding exposure to insect bites can be crucial to a more pleasant and safe summer.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org