Wednesday, July 30, 2003

No need to run from West Nile

Mosquito-borne disease less prevalent than last year, but Tristaters are alert to the threat posed by insects

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lisa Cousineau sprays her two kids with mosquito repellent every evening before she lets them go outside to play.

Theresa Conover slathers her 1-year-old daughter with a combination sunscreen and mosquito repellent before she takes her outside for walks or bike rides.

Carmen Harris makes sure the children she cares for in her Westwood day care are protected before she lets them go outside to play.

The three women say they aren't panicky about West Nile virus, but they're not taking any chances as mosquito season hits its peak.

"I don't worry about it to the point of paranoia, but it's on the radar," says Conover, 36, of Columbia Tusculum.

Mosquitoes spread disease, including encephalitis and West Nile virus. Here are some tips to help prevent the buzzing bloodsuckers from feasting on you and your loved ones:
Search and destroy: Check your property twice a week for pockets of standing water where mosquitoes breed: Gutters, flowerpots, buckets, trash cans (and lids), bicycle seats, tarps over pools or lawnmowers, birdbaths and swimming pools are all likely suspects.
Dunk: Many hardware and garden supply stores sell mosquito "dunks" that contain a larvicide to kill mosquito larvae in ponds or other areas of water that are too big to drain. The larvicide is also available in granular form.
Splash: Goldfish, carp and other fish (guess how the "skeeter fish" got its name?) feed on mosquitoes and make lovely additions to lakes and ponds.
Avoidance therapy: Mosquitoes do most of their biting from dusk till dawn. If West Nile or other diseases, or just the bites themselves, are a concern, consider staying inside during those hours.
Cover up: If you want to be outside during peak biting hours, wear long-sleeved shirt and long pants to protect yourself from bites.
Spray down: Use an insect repellent on exposed skin. DEET (N-diethyl-metaoluamide) has been found to be very effective. Citronella, either in insect repellent sprays or in candles, can also keep mosquitoes away.
Home repair: Make sure doors and windows fit properly, and that there are no holes in window or storm door screens.
Dress down: Dark colors and flowery or sweet scents attract mosquitoes and other insects. Avoid them.
Sources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Hamilton County General Health District; the Ohio Department of Health.
The Hamilton County General Health District has set up a hot line - 946-7844 - for residents to report dead birds that might be an indicator of West Nile virus. The hot line also offers information on the "Protect, Drain, Dunk" campaign for eliminating mosquitoes.
West Nile virus, first identified in North America in 1999, is here to stay, experts agree, and it's already shown up in birds and mosquitoes in Greater Cincinnati. But if wet weather continues throughout the summer, the rain could wash away much of the region's West Nile threat this year.

Since mosquitoes breed in water, it makes sense to assume that constant rain would make for a bumper crop of skeeters, says Robert Restifo, chief of the Ohio Department of Health's vector-borne disease program.

"It's a logical correlation, but it doesn't work," Restifo says.

Heavy, consistent rainfall "tends to wash the mosquito larvae away. In the short term, it reduces the mosquito population," he says.

Mosquitoes don't breed in running water, Restifo says; they like still, stagnant water, the kind found in ponds, storm sewers, swimming pools and even flowerpots.

Dry spells, much like last summer's, are more conducive to spreading diseases such as West Nile virus, Restifo says: Lots of rain falls in a short period, and then sits and stagnates long enough for mosquitoes to breed.

But most of us don't want to depend on the weather to keep the skeeters away.

"People should not stop enjoying their outdoor activities, but they should be aware of what they can do to reduce their risk," Ingram says. "If you want to go to the ballgame, go to the ballgame."

Most taking precautions

Mosquito fears have prompted some Tristaters to modify their routines.

Conover and her husband, Scot, stopped using the bike trail at Lunken Airport after concerns that old tires on the site were attracting too many mosquitoes. The Conovers now use the Loveland bike trail.

After one trip to the Lunken trail with their daughter, Clara, the Conovers counted "four or five mosquitoes" on the mesh netting covering the baby's bike trailer. "That was not good," Conover says.

Now the Conovers make sure Clara is covered in sunscreen and a botanical insect repellent before they head anywhere they expect to find mosquitoes.

Cousineau, 37, of Sharonville, used to use a botanical mosquito repellent on her children, but it didn't work when Andrew, 8, and Lauren, 10, went swimming two nights a week.

"They were completely getting eaten up," Cousineau says.

So the family switched to a "deep woods" formula that contains DEET (N-diethyl-metaoluamide, which is one of the most effective repellents), and mosquitoes stayed away.

The Cousineaus live near a heavily wooded area, and the kids don't go outside without repellent. "Even if they're just going to be sitting out on our porch, I spray them down," she says.

Harris has her hands full caring for six children, but she makes sure they're swathed in mosquito repellent before they go outside.

"Every time we go out, we lotion up or spray, whichever we have," Harris says. It's not just the threat of West Nile that motivates her. "I just don't want them getting bit by the mosquitoes."

Following experts' recommendations, Harris doesn't use repellents containing DEET on the babies she cares for. Instead, she uses repellents with botanical ingredients like citronella.

And she makes sure she's protected.

"I try to put it on every time I go out," she says.

Human cases are slowly being reported. Twelve cases were reported nationally as of Friday, including one case in Ohio and five in Texas. On Monday, Alabama health officials reported an elderly woman had died from West Nile virus, becoming the first person in the nation to die from it this year.

So far, the virus hasn't had the impact of last year, when Ohio had the third-highest number of cases nationally with 441 confirmed and 31 deaths.

In 2002, 49 birds and 10 mosquito pools had tested positive in Ohio for West Nile by July 1, Restifo says.

This year, six birds - including a blue jay found in Anderson Township - and two mosquito pools tested positive for West Nile by July 1.

On July 9, Hamilton County health officials reported that a mosquito pool found in the Dent area of Green Township had tested positive for the virus.

It's more worrisome when mosquitoes test positive for West Nile virus because they can transmit the virus to humans and other mammals; birds cannot. Also, mosquitoes are a better indicator of how entrenched the virus is in an area. Birds migrate over long distances, but mosquitoes stay in one place.

Percentages are small

West Nile virus can be life-threatening, especially in people over 50.

But the risk of actually getting the virus is slim. Only one out of five who get bitten contract the virus, and less than 1 percent of the people who get the virus have serious symptoms - meningitis or encephalitis.

That doesn't mean it's safe to let mosquitoes take over the subdivision, says Dr. Lisa Haglund, an infectious disease expert with the University of Cincinnati.

Mosquitoes also carry diseases such as Eastern equine and St. Louis encephalitis, which are much more likely to cause illness, disability and death, says Dr. Haglund.

The buzzing bloodsuckers also carry malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever, which though rare in the United States, can be deadly in other parts of the world.


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