Can Mosquitoes Spread COVID-19? What Experts Want You to Know Ahead of Summer

·4 min read
Can Mosquitoes Spread COVID-19? What Experts Want You to Know Ahead of Summer
  • Mosquitoes do not spread the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.

  • However, the insects can transmit other illnesses, including West Nile virus.

  • The best way to prevent COVID-19 transmission is to get vaccinated and continue practicing safety measures like hand-washing and masking when necessary.

As more and more Americans receive the three approved COVID-19 vaccines, confirmed cases continue to drop alongside fears of disease transmission. While there’s still a long way to go before the pandemic is officially over, the U.S. is finally approaching a new sense of normalcy. At the time of publication, more than 60% of adults have received at least one vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But now that summer is (unofficially) here, you should keep another risk on your radar: bugs, especially those that carry and transmit diseases. Mosquito season is officially in full swing, and besides those annoying, itchy bites, mosquitoes can pass on illnesses like West Nile virus.

But does that mean the buzzing insects also carry and spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? Ahead, an expert sets the record straight.

Can mosquitoes carry or spread COVID-19?

Good news: There is currently no evidence that mosquitoes can transmit COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. The novel coronavirus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, which are released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Blood doesn’t really factor into that equation, and no cases of COVID-19 originating from mosquitoes have been reported so far.

“Mosquitoes don’t transmit everything; they transmit a certain, relatively small number of diseases,” explains Stephen Gluckman, M.D., an infectious disease expert and medical director of Penn Global Medicine. “That has to do with the ability of that disease to live in the mosquito.”

In order to spread from a mosquito to a person, a virus must be compatible with both human and insect bodies. But many respiratory viruses just don’t have the ability to replicate inside insects, Dr. Gluckman says, and SARS-CoV-2 (thankfully!) appears to be one of them.

Which diseases can mosquitoes spread?

COVID-19 joins a long line of illnesses that can’t be transmitted by mosquitoes, including the flu, MRSA, and even HIV, which lives in the blood. But the pesky insects can and do spread other dangerous infections.

West Nile virus (WNV) is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the U.S., per the CDC. It’s also the “most concerning,” Dr. Gluckman says, because of its ability to cause serious illness.

The vast majority of people who become infected with WNV will be asymptomatic, the CDC notes. However, one in five experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, body aches, and diarrhea; one in 150 develop severe illnesses like inflammation of the brain or meningitis. A small number of those patients die.

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Zika, which causes similar symptoms, is much rarer in the U.S., Dr. Gluckman notes. And other, more serious mosquito-borne illnesses, including dengue and malaria, are even less common—although there’s no way to rule them out entirely.

How to protect yourself from mosquito bites

Mosquitoes are both annoying and potentially dangerous, meaning you should try to keep them at bay whenever possible. Dr. Gluckman recommends cutting down on standing water, where the bugs reproduce, near your home. He also suggests using two of the most common insect repellents: permethrin for clothes and DEET for skin, both of which repel the insects. (Bonus: They’ll ward off ticks, too.)

Eight insect repellents are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on skin: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), 2-undecanone, catnip oil, and oil of citronella. The CDC recommends using at least one of these (or clothing treated with permethrin) when outside during mosquito season—particularly during dawn and dusk, when the bugs are most active.

And remember: When it comes to COVID-19, you can still become infected in other ways. That’s why it’s crucial that you continue washing your hands frequently, on top of wearing a mask and keeping your distance when necessary—especially if you aren’t vaccinated, Dr. Gluckman explains.

The simplest way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get one of the available vaccines, all of which have been proven to reduce symptomatic and serious disease. After you’re fully vaccinated (and stocked with plenty of insect repellents) you’ll be ready to take on summer.

This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.

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