State health officials are urging Hoosiers this year to take steps to protect themselves from mosquito borne diseases, including St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile Virus. In 2008, there were three human cases of West Nile virus in the state.
“This is a key time of the year when people should start ridding their properties of potential mosquito breeding grounds to protect themselves and their families from mosquito borne illnesses,” said James Howell, DVM, state epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health. “Mosquitoes lay eggs in still water, which hatch in seven to 10 days. If standing water is eliminated weekly, many mosquitoes will be kept from breeding in the first place.”
St. Louis encephalitis is a viral disease that is spread to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. It is found throughout much of the United States. Many persons infected with St. Louis encephalitis virus have no apparent illness. People with mild illness often have only a headache and fever. More severe infection is marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions (especially in infants) and spastic (but rarely flaccid) paralysis.
The West Nile Virus usually causes West Nile fever, a milder form of the illness, which can include fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands, or a rash. However, a small number of individuals can develop a more severe form of the disease with encephalitis or meningitis and other neurological syndromes, including flaccid muscle paralysis.
Health officials report individuals age 50 and over are at greatest risk for serious illness and even death from West Nile virus. However, people of all ages can be and have been infected with the virus Dr. Howell says throughout the summer people should:
•Dispose of old tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or other unused containers that can hold water;
•Repair failed septic systems;
•Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors;
•Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed;
•Clean clogged roof gutters, particularly if leaves tend to plug up the drains; and
•Aerate ornamental pools, or stock them with predatory fish.
“There are many factors that can affect mosquito populations, including weather patterns,” said Dr. Howell. “Unfortunately, these factors are impossible to predict ahead of time, so we must be prepared. The best thing people can do to prevent getting infected is to take some simple steps to protect themselves from getting bitten by a mosquito.”
Dr. Howell recommends, if possible, people avoid being outdoors during prime mosquito biting times, dusk to dawn. When outdoors, Hoosiers should
Apply insect repellent containing DEET, Picardin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to clothes and exposed skin; and
Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.