Once again the West Nile Virus has reentered the news, as the hot summer mosquito breeding season continues in the U.S. So far this summer, parts of the country have experienced substantially greater West Nile activity than in recent years, and 35 states have reported finding the evidence of the disease in either people, birds, or mosquitoes.
Through July, 113 human cases of the virus have been reported, resulting in two deaths, which marks the highest number of reported cases since 2007. The majority of the reported infections have come from states located in the South-Central portion of the U.S., including Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.
Even though multiple cases of infection have been reported in South-Central states, experts describe the outbreak as fairly dispersed throughout the country. While the disease has been reported in 35 states, 16 of those states have reported human infection of the virus. Experts warn that West Nile has now become endemic in the U.S., making it difficult for health authorities to predict where other major outbreaks may occur. Experts also find it difficult to predict the number of outbreaks that might occur each summer, as a variety of factors can determine when and where an outbreak will happen. These factors can include: weather, number of infected mosquitoes that spread the virus, number of infected birds that carry the virus, and the frequency of human exposure to the virus.
How to Avoid Contracting the Virus
Obviously the best way to avoid contracting West Nile is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes when outside. Here are a few tips to help prevent you from getting bit:
- Wear long sleeves and pants, especially when outside around daybreak and sunset, the two times of day when mosquitoes are most active.
- Wear insect repellent when outside. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends repellents that contain the chemical DEET as the most effective on the market. If you prefer a more natural repellent, look for products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus or catnip oil instead.
- Keep windows and screens shut to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home, and run your air conditioning if possible.
- Reduce any mosquito breeding grounds found around your home. Fortunately, mosquitoes only lay their eggs in areas that contain standing water. Examine the areas around your home, and empty any standing water you find in such items as flower pots, children’s pools, buckets, or trash can lids. You may also consider walking around your neighborhood to look for and empty any discarded trash that has collected water, like old tires, soda bottles, or plastic bags, and could act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Report any dead birds you find in the neighborhood to your local health department, so they can be tested for the virus. The more information public health officials have about the spread of the disease, the better informed everyone in your neighborhood will be about any possible outbreak.
Timothy Lemke writes about public health issues for Dr. Randy Morgan, a Newberg dentist at Newberg Family Dental.