With all the talk of Zika in the news over the past couple of years, West Nile virus was almost forgotten. However, as of late, new emergences of this disease are beginning to appear. Similar to Zika, the symptoms of West Nile mostly range from mild to non-existent. However, it too has a dark side. As you may know by now, acquiring Zika may not result in much other than some mild flu-like symptoms for most people. But, it does have the concerning effect on pregnant women resulting in severe birth defects. In rare cases, it can lead to a long-term condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults. West Nile virus symptoms are also typically very mild, but about 20% of cases can have more severe symptoms (fever, meningitis, paralysis, etc.) and in rare cases can cause a fatal neurological disease to occur. Because we never know how our body is going to react to the virus, it’s something we want to avoid getting.
The West Nile virus was first discovered in the West Nile region of Uganda, which is how it got its name. There was a major outbreak in the United States in 2012 and since then has been sporadically showing up and has occurred in every state. Birds are the primary reservoir of West Nile virus, and it is spread by mosquitoes. Some other animals such as humans and horses can contract the virus, but they are considered to be dead-end hosts. This means that if a mosquito bites an infected person it does not spread the virus to other people that it bites. Because birds are the primary hosts, when dead birds are found in South Carolina, they should be reported to the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to be tested for the presence of the virus. DHEC is mainly interested in dead blue jays, crows, house sparrows, and house finches. Consult your local DHEC webpage for more information on West Nile and how to submit dead birds for testing.
Since we do not want to get or promote mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus, Zika, or any other mosquito-borne illness we need to be diligent in reducing mosquito populations and taking precautions to reduce the chances of getting bit. Here are some things that you can do to help:
- Protect yourself and your children – cover up with long sleeves and long pants. This may not be comfortable in the heat of the summer so if you don’t want to cover up be sure to use insect repellent containing DEET on all exposed skin.
- Protect your pets – mosquitoes also spread heartworm to dogs and cats so if you have pets that go outside, be sure to keep them on a regimen of heartworm prevention medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Don’t breed mosquitoes in your yard – eliminate all sources of stagnate water. Dump out water from unused flower pots, buckets, wheel barrows, kid’s toys, and anything else holding water. Regularly refresh the water in bird baths and pet water dishes. Fix areas of the yard that hold standing water for several days after rain. Don’t overwater lawns. Be sure to keep bushes and other vegetation trimmed back as much as possible. Get rid of old car tires as these are perfect mosquito habitats.
- Don’t waste money on gimmicks – bug zappers and mosquito traps may kill a few mosquitoes but usually don’t make much of a difference in the populations. Plus, they also kill beneficial insects.
- Use a mosquito management program – Terminix Service, Inc. offers an effective mosquito management service. Vegetation is treated for adults and insect growth regulators are added to breeding sites on a monthly basis throughout the mosquito season.
- Be an ambassador – educate your friends and neighbors on the importance of reducing breeding sites. Report potential breeding sites and mosquito activity in public areas to your local municipality. Report dead birds to your state DHEC office.