Mosquito season is officially upon us. This has been emphasized by the recent media attention given to West Nile virus.
Actually, West Nile virus probably gets more than its share of attention. It is a serious disease, but there are other mosquito-vectored diseases as well that should get some attention. At least the recent media blitz will encourage us all to be a little more cautious around mosquitoes.
This information from University of Georgia entomologist Elmer Gray may help you better understand West Nile virus and mosquitoes.
West Nile virus was first detected in New York City in 1999. It reached Georgia by 2001 and spread across the country by 2002. Georgia has had at least 12 cases of West Nile virus in 2012 with more cases being examined. We probably have a great many more cases than we realize. Some people have the disease but do not know it. Most people with West Nile virus develop little or no symptoms and recover without additional care.
About one in five infected people will develop mild, flu-like symptoms -- fever, headache and body aches. They may develop a rash on the trunk of their body and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms usually last a few days and then disappear.
About one in every 150 infected persons develop severe symptoms -- headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. These symptoms last several weeks, but some neurological effects may be permanent. Some people may die. People with weakened immune systems, particularly children and the elderly, may be more at risk.
This is not meant to be a medical treatise on West Nile virus. Contact your health professional for all medical questions. However, lets talk about preventing West Nile virus and other mosquito-vectored diseases.
August and September are the peak months for West Nile virus. Take precautions to protect yourself from mosquitoes, especially if you spend time outside. The most effective way to personally reduce mosquito bites when outside is by using a repellent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends repellents registered by Environmental Protection Agency.
Repellents vary in the amount of time they will repel mosquitoes. Scientific studies show that repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD and IR3535 provide reasonably long periods of repelling mosquitoes. Like other chemicals, repellents are toxic. Read and follow all label directions when using repellents. Children can be much more sensitive to repellents because of their smaller body size. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using products containing DEET with concentrations of 30 percent or less on children as young as 2 months of age. The other approved products are labeled for children above 2 years of age. DEET has been the standard in repellents for years.
You can also reduce mosquito bites by wearing loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and making sure all screens are in good condition around your home.
Since mosquitoes breed in water, the No. 1 method of controlling mosquitoes outside is removing or treating anything that holds water. Some mosquitoes need only four ounces of water to reproduce. Water control should be done on a community basis since some mosquitoes fly a distance looking for a meal.
The main mosquito that spreads West Nile virus in Georgia is the southern house mosquito. These mosquitoes like to breed in the nutrient rich waters found in storm drains and storm-water retention areas. Most mosquitoes reproduce best after a rain, but southern house mosquitoes often reproduce best in dry seasons. This is because there has been no rain to wash out the stagnant water in storm drains and storm water catch basins. This water can sometimes be treated if necessary.
You can treat stagnant water with mosquito larvicides. Contact your local Extension Office or see page seven of this publication, www.ent.uga.edu/pmh/Hm_Humans.pdf. Read and follow all label directions.
Another method of controlling mosquitoes is to stock water with fish. Water containing fish usually does not produce as many mosquitoes since the fish eat the larvae. If there are no fish in water or if the pond is choked with weeds, these areas may produce significant numbers of mosquitoes. A small fish called Gambusia (mosquito fish) is especially good at eating mosquito larvae. Contact the state Department of Natural Resources for details on Gambusia, (478) 825-6151.
Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.