Was this winter cold enough for you? I can’t ever remember a winter when I had to dress so warmly for such long periods of time. And if we found it cold, hopefully some of our native insects did as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of the mosquitoes didn’t make it to spring? That certainly would lessen some of our health concerns and let us enjoy the benefits of living in coastal Georgia.
Mosquitoes can spread West Nile and other viruses by feeding on the blood of infected birds. West Nile virus is the most commonly seen virus in Georgia. It’s not spread from person to person. The virus is a closely related to other mosquito-borne viruses that circulate in Georgia every year, such as St. Louis encephalitis and eastern equine encephalitis viruses. Before August 1999, WNV had never been reported in the Western Hemisphere. West Nile virus first was isolated from a febrile adult woman in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937. In recent years, West Nile virus has emerged in temperate regions of Europe and North America, presenting a threat to public, equine and animal health.
The most serious manifestation of a WNV infection is fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans, horses and certain domestic and wild birds. Fewer than 1 percent of those infected with West Nile will develop severe illness, and it is possible for many humans to contract the disease and manifest no symptoms. The threat for humans is mainly for the elderly and people with other health problems that make them more susceptible to secondary illnesses.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus usually occur three to 15 days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Most people who are infected with WNV will have no symptoms or may have a mild, flu-like illness with fever, headache and body aches before they recover. In some individuals, particularly the elderly, the virus can cause a serious disease called encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Symptoms of encephalitis may include high fever, severe headache, nausea, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, paralysis, disorientation, convulsions, coma and, rarely, death.
There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for West Nile virus in humans. But the symptoms and complications of the disease can be treated, and most people who get the disease recover from it. A vaccine to help protect horses against the virus is available and owners of horses are encouraged to have their animals inoculated.
Many birds infected with West Nile virus die, so public-health officials look at dead bird reports as a warning sign for the virus. People who find dead birds in their yards should report them to their county environmental health department. The reports will be used to map bird deaths throughout Georgia. Some of the birds also will be collected by health authorities and tested for West Nile virus. Unfortunately, it is not possible to test all reported birds.
Because mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, the Georgia Department of Human Resources and the Coastal Health District advise residents to take the following precautions against mosquitoes:
• Minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
• When outdoors, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, shoes and socks.
• On exposed skin, use mosquito repellent that contains less than 30 percent DEET for adults and less than 10 percent DEET on children older than 1 (do not use DEET on infants).
• Because mosquitoes require stagnant water to breed, eliminate standing water around your home by disposing of old cans, barrels, tires or other objects that can collect surface water. Store wheelbarrows and boats upside down (or cover them), and empty pets’ water dishes, birdbaths, pools and ornamental ponds at least once a week.
• Clean gutters, flat roofs and air conditioner drains frequently.
• Keep mosquitoes from entering buildings by repairing screens on windows, doors, patios and porches.
• Keep grass and weeds mowed to reduce mosquitoes’ resting places.
For more information about mosquito control around your home or to report a dead bird, call the Liberty County Environmental Health Department at 368-5520. For more information about West Nile virus and other mosquito-transmitted diseases, go to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/prevention_info.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.