By Nancy Black
Fourteen hours later, I woke up. My right eye was not only still swollen, it was now crusted over. So much for taking Benadryl at the first sign of an allergic reaction.
It all started with a simple mosquito bite. I live next to a creek. I know to slather myself in OFF!, which I do every night. But, damn, if that one mosquito didn’t find the itty bitty, single slice of my skin that wasn’t covered in DEET. That little piece of flesh was next to my right eyebrow, closest to my hairline. I even saw that pesky pest out of the corner of my eye. But the flick of my hand wasn’t fast enough. He’d stuck me.
I could feel the bite site start to swell so I went inside to look in the mirror. The welt was the size of a nickel at that point. It didn’t take long for it to reach half dollar size, engulfing my eye as the mosquito toxins spread through my face.
As I reached for the Benadryl in my medicine cabinet, I remembered my days writing the morning news for WFAA/Channel 8. It was way back in the year 2002. I was a news writer. I wrote what you heard the anchors say each day. West Nile virus were three words I had to type often. It was a new virus back then, and the fear of contracting West Nile virus (WNV) were real and frightening. People died from it. We wrote, and the anchors spoke, about the daily deaths from WNV much like they report on COVID-19 deaths these days.
“West Nile virus (WNV) is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States,” according to current studies from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “It is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Cases of WNV occur during mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through fall.”
Doctors can tell if you have WNV by running blood tests but there are “no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat WNV in people.” Luckily, most infected people don’t feel sick, though some develop a fever or other symptoms, especially if they are 60 years old or older. About one in five people develop symptoms from being infected. But only about 1 in 150 develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness. And you can’t really blame the mosquitoes, though they are the easiest targets. Birds are the ones who infect the mosquitoes.
The only way to prevent contracting WNV is to avoid mosquito bites. Ha. Easier said than done. But seriously, we can do things to prevent mosquitoes from completing their evil mission to bite every human being on the planet. Eliminate standing water around your house. Clean out your gutters of all that moist gunk of leaves and debris mosquitoes consider paradise. Use mosquito repellents that contains DEET. Wearing long sleeve clothing outside at night is also a good tool. If a mosquito can’t find skin, she can’t bite. And, yes, it is the female mosquitoes who do the biting.
If you are opposed to using chemical preventable measures, there are lots of natural ways you can try. The easiest is to eat a bunch of garlic. I did that when I traveled to Thailand, and it really works. Lemon balm, basil, clove, mint and rosemary are also great plants to have in your garden. They all act as natural mosquito repellents, as do citronella plants and candles. A big, outdoor fan works well, too. There are lots of Do-It-Yourself natural insect repellent recipes online.
Oh, and that old myth about a hard freeze during winter will kill off all the mosquito eggs? It’s false. So much for our February Snowmageddon. Mosquitoes go dormant when it’s cold, but they always come back. And they do actually have a purpose in our Earth’s overall ecosystem, so we can’t wish to eliminate their existence.
I’m not sure why my eye swelled up so horribly from that one mosquito bite. And I don’t understand why the Benadryl (and ALL that sleep) didn’t reduce the inflammation even a tiny bit. Fortunately, I’m better now. But I do know I am now on a personal mission to protect myself in any and every way possible from getting bitten again.
A lofty goal, I know. Wish me luck!