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How Risky are Mosquitoes?

Mosquito bites pose few risks in the western U.S.—except for West Nile virus.

Q I know I should worry about tick bites, but what about mosquito bites?

A In the western United States, mosquitoes rarely spread disease. That said, it’s a good idea to outsmart the little suckers to avoid the region’s one mosquito-related health risk: West Nile virus.

Federal agencies confirmed 663 West Nile infections in 2009, including more than 100 cases in California. Nationwide, 30 people died last year after the virus spread to their brains. Because most infected people have mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all, the number of infections is probably much higher, says mosquito expert Chet Moore, a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

The few mosquito species that transmit the virus thrive from sea level to 6,000 feet. They usually emerge in late spring and stay into fall, and they do most of their biting between dusk and midnight. Camping out or strolling at twilight? Moore recommends wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and a repellent containing deet, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

This article was first published in May 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.