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Island health: West Nile queries answered
With the season for West Nile Virus (WNV) drawing to a close until next spring, questions still abound about the risks of WNV. I will address some common questions being asked.
l Most mosquito bites will not lead to human WNV infection. Of those few becoming infected, only 3 in 10 will experience symptoms (flu-like in nature), and only 1 in 150 will become ill enough to require hospitalization. Immunity is conferred from once having the disease, symptomatic or not.
l There is no vaccine or medication specific for WNV for humans. Treatment is symptomatic.
l Children seemingly are seldom infected; the risk of serious infection is greater for older people and the immuno-compromised. (There have been 212 WNV-associated deaths in the United States thus far in 2002.)
l Birds are the natural reservoir for this disease. Humans and other mammals are end hosts, and the virus is not transmitted human-to-human, nor are humans or other mammals able to transmit the disease to others by mosquito bites. Mosquitoes spread the disease.
The most effective measures to combat the spread of WNV are to rid the environment of mosquito habitat, and to properly protect yourself from mosquito bites.
l Standing water is the culprit. It doesnt take much water, nor much time for mosquito larva to mature. Change water in birdbaths weekly; clean gutters; empty water from tires and flowerpot dishes. Bats and swallows feed on adult mosquitoes; put gold fish in ponds and water troughs.
l Use insect repellants containing DEET according to directions; wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants to hide your skin from the mosquitoes. Top it off with a hat. You can even spray your clothes with a mosquito repellent to keep them away. Avoid being outside as much as possible during the evening when mosquitoes are most prevalent.
Whidbey Island has no mosquito abatement program, nor a mosquito control district. Camano Island does have a mosquito control district. These are issues that will have to be tackled by community leaders if we are to address concerns about mosquito control.
Roger Case, M.D.
Island County Health Officer