The Danger of Mosquitos to Movie Crews
IATSE Local 479 Summer Safety Series: people who work outdoors face a number of additional health safety dangers, from weather extremes to risk of disease. Summer presents an increased risk of encounters with a variety of creatures that can cause injury and/or disease. This article includes information collected from several agencies, including the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund (“CSATF”) Safety Bulletin #31, “Critters”.
An Ancient Pest
“A hundred million years ago, there were mosquitoes just like today.” – Mr. DNA, Jurassic Park
Mr. DNA was partly correct… while the mosquito has indeed been around since the age of the dinosaurs, fossil records indicate that the insect that we recognize as today’s “modern” mosquito has only been around for 79 million years, which is still far longer than most film crews have been around, making our members a recent and delicious addition to the mosquito’s menu.
The mosquito is a type of flying insect called a “midge” – the word “mosquito” is Spanish for “little fly”.
Mosquitos breed in stagnant, standing water and their larvae swim around eating small organic particles until they grow large enough to pass through the pupal stage and enter the adult stage. Adult female mosquitos require a blood meal in order to lay eggs. They are attracted to body heat and carbon dioxide that mammals exhale, as well as secondary chemical attractants in exhaled breath (so some people truly are more tasty to mosquitos).
“The feeding preferences of mosquitoes include those with type O blood, heavy breathers, those with a lot of skin bacteria, people with a lot of body heat, and the pregnant. Individuals’ attractiveness to mosquitoes also has a heritable, genetically-controlled component.” – Mosquito, Wikipedia
These little flies can be found in every populated land region on the planet (with the exception of Antarctica) and since they are extremely efficient carriers of disease, it is important to be aware of steps you can take to avoid becoming a statistic, both on and off set.
Diseases carried by Mosquitos
Moving from host to host for blood, mosquitos are responsible for the spread of a variety of pathogens that can affect birds and mammals (including humans). From viral diseases (like yellow fever) to parasitic diseases (like malaria), these pathogens are captured when a female mosquito feeds upon an already infected victim and is transmitted to a subsequent victim via the live disease from the first victim’s blood, carried in the mosquito’s saliva and gut.
The most common mosquito-borne diseases in the jurisdiction covered by Local 479 are West Nile virus, Eastern Equine encephalitis virus, and LaCrosse virus. Occasionally the Saint Louis encephalitis virus can pop up in this region.
Mosquitos in several US territories (including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) carry additional diseases, like Chikungunya, Dengue, and Zika. If you plan to travel outside of the continental United States consult the CDC’s Travel Health Guidelines (link).
Additional mosquito-borne diseases:
The best way to halt the irritation of mosquito bites and the risk of mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid these insects and the habitats they occupy altogether. If mosquitos can’t find you, they can’t bite you. Of course this solution isn’t realistic for the film industry, due to the prevalence of shoots at exterior locations.
So be ready to cover up.
Long shirts and pants aren’t just good for preventing skin cancer, they are also very effective at reducing access to blood-rich parts of your body, so add a long-sleeved shirt and extra pants to the duffel bag where you keep your rain gear and extra socks and be sure to put them on if you discover you’re working in a mosquito-rich location.
The CDC recommends treating your clothes with a mosquito repellant containing a chemical called “permethrin”, or purchase clothes that have been pre-treated with this chemical. Note: the CDC advises that you do not apply this repellant directly to your skin.
The Georgia Department of Public Health recommends the use of products containing active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as repellents applied to skin and clothing.
The EPA provides a Search Tool to help you find the best solution for your case.
“EPA registration” means that EPA does not expect for the product to cause adverse effects to human health or to the environment when used according to the instructions on the label.
Types of Mosquito Repellant
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
- DEET Education Program
- CDC Repellent Use FAQs
- EPA – Insect Repellents
Symptoms of Mosquito-borne Diseases
West Nile virus has an incubation period between 2 to 14 days. The majority of people who are bitten have a variety of symptoms that are not sufficient to prompt them to seek medical assistance, and include: headache, weakness, muscle and/or joint pain, upset stomach, or rash. In rare cases people can develop meningitis, encephalitis, and even paralysis.
Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) disease has an incubation period of 4 to 10 days. EEEV can present as systemic or encephalitic. Systemic presentation includes fever, chills, malaise, as well as muscle and joint paint. This form of the illness may last for as long as 2 weeks.
The encephalitic presentation of this disease (EEE) includes fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis, convulsions and coma. Approximately one third of people with this disease will die, with most passing within 10 days of after onset of symptoms.
No human vaccine exists for this disease, only treatment options.
LaCrosse virus exists in a very specific cycle between small vertebrates like chipmunks and squirrels and the eastern treehole mosquito. It has an incubation period between 5 and 15 days. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and lethargy.
There is no vaccine for this disease, only treatment options.
Zika virus has an incubation period of 3 to 12 days. Symptoms include fever, rash, headache, join pain, red eyes, and muscle pain. People who have contracted this virus rarely need to go to the hospital and rarely die from it. Zika was originally identified in Africa and is now on the CDC’s radar for the United States; in 2017 the CDC recorded 7 cases of Zika via mosquito transmission, and 8 cases via other routes, including sexual transmission.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is monitoring for Zika incidents and has a page set up for additional information about the virus and points of contact if you believe you have encountered the virus.
The CDC offers an interactive map tool called ArboNET; an electronic surveillance system showing provisional human data on the distribution, type, and location of diseases spread via arthropods (like ticks and mosquitos), as recorded in the United States each year since 1999.
CSATF Safety Bulletin #31, “Critters”
The Contract Services Administration Trust Fund provides a wide variety of safety topics, including #31 titled “Critters”.