Around the world, mosquito nets are a key tool in preventing mosquito-borne diseases from spreading.
For most of us in the United States, mosquitoes are nothing but annoying summer bugs. Sure, none of us like getting itchy bites, but we seldom fear death as a result. But believe it or not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, there are about 1,500 cases of malaria diagnosed in the U.S.
The vast majority of these cases are likely travelers and immigrants returning from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where malaria transmission is more likely to occur. Still, malaria isn't an issue Americans should ignore. In 2015, the World Health Organization stated that there were 214 million clinical cases of malaria and 438,000 deaths, most of them children in Africa.
Around the world, mosquito nets are a key tool in preventing mosquito-borne diseases from spreading. Mosquito nets or bed nets are fine nets hung over a door, window or (most commonly) a bed to protect the people inside from mosquito bites and the often deadly diseases the insects carry.
Why are mosquito nets important?
Mosquitoes spread all types of viruses and parasites, which can cause diseases like chikungunya, dengue, Zika, West Nile, encephalitis and malaria. The malaria vaccine has variable effectiveness, and there are no vaccines for other mosquito-borne diseases like the ones mentioned earlier. Mosquito nets are particularly important in protecting the most vulnerable groups: pregnant women and children under five years old. Simple mosquito bites can lead to devastating illnesses and even death for these groups in particular.
How do mosquito nets work?
Made from polyester, polyethylene or polypropylene, bed nets create a protective barrier around the people sleeping beneath them. Mosquito nets keep bugs out best when pretreated with a pyrethroid insecticide. According to the CDC, if more than half of a community uses an insecticide-treated bed net (ITN), the number of mosquitoes in the area and their length of life will be reduced. This can protect all members of the community, even if they aren't the ones using a bed net, the CDC says.
These nets need to be re-treated or replaced every six months to a year. Long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs), however, maintain their effectiveness for up to three years. These are regularly distributed through malarious areas and have been associated with a sharp decrease in cases of malaria.
When should you use mosquito nets?
If you are staying in accommodations that are not adequately screened or air conditioned, mosquito bed nets are essential for providing protection from mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are most active during twilight hours and at night, so bedtime is a necessary time for protection. However, mosquitoes can also live indoors and bite at any time of day or night, so also use an EPA-registered insect repellent and cover up by wearing long-sleeved clothing.
How can you help stop the spread of mosquito-borne diseases? Gathering the resources necessary to distribute bed nets is a big challenge. You can give individual donations through organizations like the CDC Foundation or Malaria No More. Every single mosquito net helps to lower the number of mosquito bites.