Mosquitoes test positive for West Nile Virus as Georgia heads into peak of season

September 9th, 2010

Mosquitoes test positive for West Nile Virus as Georgia heads into peak of season

By Kara Cole

A mosquito bite may seem trivial to the average Georgian, but the Georgia Division of Community Health (DCH) is warning residents that the latest sample of mosquitoes has tested positive for the sometimes deadly West Nile Virus.

“We collected the mosquitoes in early July, and the test results came back positive on the 21st,” says Juanette Willis, DeKalb County ArboVirus coordinator. “It was our first collection of mosquitoes for the state that tested positive.”

Mosquito season begins in the month of August, hitting its breeding peak in the beginning of September. This is when people should be most vigilant in protecting themselves and their families.

“We have an aggressive response by starting in May, focusing on educating a higher concentration of individuals that are more at risk to the virus,” Willis says.

The West Nile Virus (WNV) first develops when a mosquito feeds off infected birds. The mosquito then bites a human, spreading the infection across species.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there have been four cases of West Nile Virus reported in Georgia this year, only one leading to hospitalization. So far in 2010, no cases have been reported in the metro Atlanta area, and authorities would like to keep it that way.

In most situations, West Nile Virus is not fatal. Most people don’t experience any symptoms 80 percent of the time, and four out of five people will never know they have it, brushing it off as a mild cold. Anyone 50 years old or older, or with a weakened immune system, is at higher risk and more likely to suffer if they contract the virus.

If you’ve ever had the flu, you may find it easier to recognize the symptoms of WNV. In more severe cases, people experience nausea, vomiting, fever, and headaches three to 14 days after being bitten. They usually recover in a few weeks.

However, depending on the person who becomes infected, WNV can lead to hospitalization, paralysis, meningitis, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), vision loss, muscle weakness or even death. There is no specific cure or treatment for the virus, nor has a vaccine been developed, which is why it’s crucial to avoid exposure to West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in the first place.

It usually takes the insect a week to grow from egg to flying mosquito, and less than a month to breed numerously. Mosquitoes usually breed in flowerpot saucers, gutters, tarps, or any outdoor items that are liable to collect water. Simply dumping or changing out these items will help prevent the spread of WNV. If you have a boggy yard, larvicides can be used to exterminate larvae and stop the breeding.

The DCH encourages people to habitually use insect repellent (preferably EPA approved) when outdoors, avoid likely breeding sites, wear long sleeves, and report locations of dead birds to their county health department. Mosquitoes usually bite in the late evenings and early mornings. People who work outdoors are at higher risk.

The DeKalb County Department of Health’s West Nile Virus (Arbovirus) program sends technicians out to homes to help identify and eliminate likely breeding sites.

The board provides a very detailed list of helpful tips and prevention methods:

  • Treat a long-sleeved shirt with permethrin, an over-the-counter insecticide, and hang by the door to slip on when just running outside for a quick moment. Permethrin-treated clothing retains its repellent effect even after repeated laundering.
  • Keep a spray bottle of repellent by the door so it’s convenient to apply before heading outside.
  • Keep a spray bottle of repellent in the car.
  • Use plant pots without saucers.
  • Make a checklist of items in your yard to check weekly for water accumulation.
  • Rake up fallen leaves, especially magnolia leaves, which tend to hold water.
  • Do not use plastic sheeting as a weed barrier.
  • Fill tree holes with sand.
  • Remove litter and debris. A soda bottle cap can hold enough water to breed mosquitoes.

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