With 43 different species of mosquitoes in Maine — about half of which want to suck your blood — it’s not uncommon to experience itchiness this time of year. But some of those mosquitoes do worse, carrying dangerous diseases you want to avoid.
Mosquito season Maine runs from April to October. The high-pitched buzz of the flying pest is a familiar and irritating sound to anyone spending time outside during those months, especially at dawn and dusk when the insects are the most active.
Although mosquito bites are relatively painless, leaving most people with an itchy welt, experts warn mosquitoes are vectors of several serious diseases, including Jamestown Canyon virus which was reported for the first time in Maine this week. It’s a reminder that people spending time outside need to take precautions to protect themselves.
“They can carry other viruses such as West Nile Virus [and] Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus,” said Lindsay Hammes, director of communications at Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Those have the potential to cause serious symptoms.”
The three mosquitoes that tested positive for carrying Jamestown Canyon virus were found in York County, according to the weekly Maine CDC mosquito surveillance report. All three were saltwater marsh mosquitoes, which prefer feeding on mammals and birds. But they do bite people as well and can pass on the virus.
So far this summer no mosquitoes in Maine have tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis or West Nile virus.
West Nile virus, Jamestown Canyon virus and eastern equine encephalitis are all transmitted directly from an infected mosquito when they bite a person and begin feeding on their blood. Common symptoms of all three include fever, chills, joint pain, dizziness, headaches and digestive issues.
In very serious cases they can cause swelling of the brain leading to coma and death.
The mosquitos that transmit the viruses are known as “bridge species,” said Jim Dill, pest management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
“The ones that feed on birds and humans are the bad ones,” Dill said. “They usually pick the virus up from the birds and once they have fed on the bird and bite a human, you can be infected.”
If there is any good news, it’s that if a mosquito bites a human infected with any of those diseases, it will not pass it on to the next person they bite.
Instances of people coming down with any of these mosquito-borne diseases is rare in Maine, according to the Maine CDC. But that does not mean people should take a cavalier attitude when it comes to mosquito protection.
Mosquitoes are everywhere in the state where you find the standing water they need to reproduce. That means virtually anywhere you are in Maine during the summer and early fall there is likely a swarm of mosquitoes sizing you up for a meal.
“We have so much water,” Dill said. “You only need a tablespoon of water for a couple of larvae to grow.”
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When you consider the number of small or large holes in trees and stumps, old cans and bottles laying around, natural depressions in the ground and marshy areas in the state, Dill said it’s no secret why mosquitos are a ubiquitous, albeit irritating, part of the Maine landscape.
“Any sheltered place you have standing water, you will have mosquitos,” he said.
But it’s no reason to stay inside during the all-too-brief Maine summer.
When you are heading outside, wear loose fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, use bug repellent — reapply as necessary throughout the day — and watch for symptoms of fever or flu-like illness. If you have any of those symptoms, Hammes said you should contact your health care provider.
To help control the mosquito population around your home, look for anything that has standing water like buckets, old tires, rain barrels or gutters and drain them. It’s also a good idea to put screens in doors or windows.
It could be worse. Of the mosquitoes that feed on humans, it’s only the females that need that blood meal.
“The males eat nectar or don’t feed at all,” Dill said. “All they are looking for is a mate, which is not such a bad life, depending how you look at it.”