Mosquitoes aren’t just a nuisance. They can be a significant public health threat as well. Mosquitoes are the biggest culprits in the spread of West Nile virus, first spotted in the United States in 1999. Since then, many cities have implemented mosquito eradication programs in an attempt to get rid of the threat of the disease. Late summer and early fall is the height of West Nile season in the United States.
A recent West Nile outbreak in Dallas has so far required 120 people to be hospitalized. There are other, less severe outbreaks elsewhere in the country. Experts say the unusually warm summer is contributing to mosquito activity, increasing the prevalence of the virus.
Children and the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are at particular risk. However, anyone who is displaying West Nile illness symptoms should seek medical attention.
The mild form of the disease caused by the virus is called West Nile fever. It develops in about one in five people who are infected. Symptoms include abdominal pain and loss of appetite, fever and headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, a sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.
In its more serious form the disease strikes one in 150 infected people. In these cases it presents as meningitis or encephalitis and can lead to muscle weakness, confusion, and coma.
The best strategy to avoid becoming infected is to try to avoid mosquitoes While that’s easier said than done, there are precautions you can take. Screens on your windows and doors—properly installed and in good repair—help keep insects out of your house. When outside, use insect repellant and wear long sleeves, particularly around dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
Mosquitoes breed by standing water, so try to avoid letting it sit out. Change pet dish and bird bath water at least once a week. if water pools anywhere it’s not supposed to, such as tire swings, drill holes for it to drain out. Store wading pools empty and on their sides.