Leader Blues

Friday, August 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Controlling mosquitoes key to prevent illnesses

Leader staff writer

Two human cases of West Nile virus in Jefferson County have been confirmed by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). The ADH has also confirmed one case of St. Louis encephalitis, another disease transmitted by mosquitoes.

State Health Department officials are advising that prevention is the best remedy for this sometimes fatal illness.

“People need to be taking precautions big time,” said Ann Wright, director of communications for the ADE. “Mosquitoes are building back up.”

There is no specific treatment for the West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes to humans, horses, and other animals after biting infected birds, the carriers of the disease.

Because of the relatively mild Arkansas climate, mosquitoes are active year round, so protective measures are always advised.

It is always best to avoid going out doors around dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

If exposure is likely, applying a good insect repellant, such as those containing DEET, is recommended.

Two additional insect repellants have been approved by the EPA and are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as effective alternatives to DEET. Both are widely available.

The synthetic compound DEET has been found to have adverse reactions in children, including skin irritation, and in rare cases, severe illness.

One alternative is repellants containing Picaridin, which are popular in Europe, Australia, Asia and Latin America and has won approval of the American Association of Pediatricians.

Studies have shown it to be as effective as DEET, but use on children under age 3 is not advised. The other is oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Both of these products are considered as effective as DEET in warding off mosquitoes but may not be as long lasting.

Whenever using any mosquito repellant, particularly DEET, careful adherence to label instructions is strongly advised, Wright said.

Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, muscle and joint pain, and extreme lack of energy. In severe cases, headache may be a sign of encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.

Most Arkansans at some point have been bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus, but very few become ill, health officials say.

“One percent of folks do develop a very severe illness, and they are very, very ill,” Wright said.

Although only two human cases of the virus have been reported this year, both from the same county, the virus is believed to be active all across the state. In 2007, 20 cases and one death were confirmed in Arkansas.

Of the 14 counties reporting cases, most were in the southern part of the state, but Washington, Logan, Sebastian and Scott counties in the northwest, and Mississippi County in the northeast, were also affected.

The most effective way to reduce risk of transmission of the virus is elimination of places where the mosquitoes can breed.

“You can greatly reduce your risk of contracting the virus by clearing out standing water, because anywhere there is water, they will breed,” Wright said.

“The flight path of the type of mosquito that transmits the virus is roughly a city block so if you and your neighbors get rid of standing water, you can greatly reduce the risk of contracting the disease.”

Mosquitoes can breed in something as small as a bowl or soda can or as large as a pond or marsh, if the water is not moving.

Mosquitoes are controlled by the elimination of anything in which water collects and stands for several days, such as old tires, containers, clogged roof gutters, and landscaping where vegetation restricts movement of water.

Birdbath water should be changed often, swimming pools kept chlorinated, and wading pools, wheelbarrows, and containers turned over when not in use.