Fighting mosquito-borne diseases

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mosquitoes are prolific in the Bainbridge area right now, making it difficult to enjoy the outdoor activities one normally associates with springtime.

Ansley Johnson, environmental health manager for Decatur County says it is because of the warmer winter and the unseasonably warm and early spring. Add to that the heavy rains experienced a few weeks ago and the area has seen an abundance of mosquitoes.

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This is a problem because mosquitoes are known to spread diseases in humans and animals — specifically, West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, often referred to as “triple E.” Both diseases are transmitted to humans and horses from the bite of  mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds, horses and other animals.

Johnson said West Nile Virus was first identified in the late 1930s in Africa, was spotted in the United States in 1999 and in Georgia in 2001.

To date, no cases of either illness have been reported this year in our health district, but Johnson says the area typically sees two to three cases of West Nile in a year, and occasionally see a case of EEE. West Nile virus tends to peak in late summer to early fall.

Johnson said of the two, EEE is the most serious. It affects humans, and horses and approximately 33 percent of all EEE illnesses are fatal.

West Nile Virus is less serious. According to information provided by Johnson, 80 percent of people infected with West Nile may not show symptoms, or at least not serious enough symptoms to seek medical care. They may have slight fever, headache, swollen glands, muscle aches and joint pain. The more severe, extreme cases will see paralysis or even coma, but the 80 percent may never even know they have it. The incubation period is from two to 15 days from the time of the bite.

Persons stricken with EEE would definitely be ill enough to seek medical attention. Symptoms can range from mild flu-like symptoms to inflammation of the brain, coma and death.

The worst part is there are no specific treatments or vaccines available for humans against either disease, but there are steps that can be taken to protect yourself.

Johnson said it is important to take preventive measures. They involve avoiding being outside in the early mornings and evenings when mosquitoes are most active. When working or playing outside, always apply an insect repellent such as those that contain DEET, natural repellent oils, or Picaridin, all available at local stores. Wear long sleeves and pants when working outside.

Johnson said spraying is not the most effective method of eliminating mosquitoes, as it only attacks the adults. However, it is part of the control plan. Bug lights may help some, but the most effective method is to eliminate the breeding areas — the standing waters where the larvae breed.

Change the waters and clean containers every few days in bird baths and pet bowls. Outdoor water areas, such as fountains and pools should be kept clean and the water circulating. There is also a larvicide that can be purchased to treat the water.

Don’t overlook the other spaces. Store wheel barrows, tubs, buckets and boats upside down so water cannot accumulate in them.  Johnson said even something as small as a bottle cap can provide enough standing water to be a breeding place for mosquitoes.

While you are protecting yourself and your neighbors, don’t forget that the bite of the mosquitoes can and do spread heartworms to dogs and cats. Protect your pets with heartworm preventative medicine.