Its time to get deadly serious about avoiding mosquito bites in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Community Health has stated that West Nile Virus has reached epidemic stage in Michigan and wants Michigan residents to try to avoid mosquito bites and eliminate mosquito breeding sites. There have been 57 reported cases of West Nile virus, 50 of them with serious neurological symptoms as of August 24, 2012. Four of the people infected have died, including the August 29th death of an 86 year old Wayne County woman. More cases are being diagnosed each day.
West Nile Virus is a disease that can have serious life altering effects even if you do not die from it. It can cause brain injury, paralysis, seizures and other neurological problems for many years or for the rest of your life. Even recovery from milder neurological cases of WNV can take months. While people over 50 are more likely to have serious effects, it can kill people of all ages.
The CDC has listed Michigan in the top ten states for cases of West Nile Virus this year. Most of Michigan’s human cases have occurred in Southeast Michigan, with Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Kent counties having the most cases. In addition to the medical cases, testing of blood donated in the state has revealed 22 blood donors had the virus, most of whom probably had no symptoms.
Michigan has tested over 4,000 mosquito pools, and found that 22 of the pools had mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile. In addition many counties have had dead birds test positive for the disease. One case of a horse infected with West Nile was found in Montcalm County.
You get West Nile from the bite of an infected mosquito. (In rare cases WNV has been transmitted through blood transfusions, organ donors, breast milk or handling dead birds.) Birds are intermediate host of the disease, with the mosquitoes having to bite an infected bird before then biting you. Many birds will have no symptoms but some species are more susceptible to WNV and many birds die in an epidemic. In Michigan crows and blue jays are two very susceptible species and many dead crows and blue jays are being found.
Researchers believe WNV has increased this year in spite of it being a dry year, because of the early start to the season. More generations of mosquitoes means the population surges over time. Most of the WNV cases have occurred in urban areas. While rural areas are seeing swamps and ponds dry up, causing less favorable mosquito breeding areas, urban areas tend to irrigate lawns and gardens keeping conditions favorable for breeding mosquitoes. Also the vast amounts of trash, overgrown lots, and abandoned buildings in cities like Detroit tend to have things that collect water and provide fertile breeding grounds for the mosquitoes.
How to keep yourself safe
Avoiding West Nile Virus and serious illness or death means avoiding bites from mosquitoes. Here’s how to do that.
- Wear mosquito repellant when you are outdoors, preferably one with DEET. DEET is known to be effective and decades of its use have found no serious side effects. In contrast herbal and other concoctions have various levels of effectiveness and should not be relied on in serious epidemics like this.
- If you are outside for long periods carry mosquito repellent with you and reapply it after sweating, swimming or if it seems to be wearing off.
- When outdoors wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks that cover the ankle area. Spray thin or tight fitting clothing with mosquito repellant.
- Avoid being out at dawn or dusk, or going into areas where there appear to be swarms of mosquitoes.
- Make sure that holes in screens are repaired and doors and windows fit tightly.
- Keep areas around your home mowed and weeded, and trim back overgrown shrubs to eliminate daytime resting spots for adult mosquitoes.
- Pick up any trash that could hold water, such as old tires, bottles and cans, cups, toys, etc.
- Empty all outside water containers like bird baths, pet dishes, wading pools and flower pot saucers at least every other day to eliminate mosquito breeding areas.
- Use Bt products in ornamental ponds and water features without fish. (Fish eat mosquito larvae.) Bt is harmless to people and pets.
While children are less susceptible to serious illness from WNV remember to make sure they wear mosquito repellant and limit their time outside at dusk and dawn when mosquito activity is high.
While pets can get WNV they seldom show any effects from it, except for horses, which are very susceptible to WNV. There is a vaccine for horses. Pet birds, depending on the species, may become ill or die from WNV. Poultry like chickens and ducks are seldom seriously affected. People do not get WNV from animals or birds unless you handle sick or dead birds with your bare hands and get the virus into a break in your skin.
People do not catch West Nile Virus from exposure to someone ill with the disease. It does not spread from coughing or sneezing.
What to do if you are bitten by mosquitoes
Don’t panic if you get a mosquito bite. Statistically most mosquito bites will not give you WNV. After a mosquito bites you there is nothing you can do to prevent WNV such as washing the bitten area. Even if you get WNV most cases are like a bad cold. However if you develop a fever, rash, have aches and pains, a bad headache, swollen glands and muscle stiffness you should see a doctor. WNV does not cause vomiting and diarrhea. It can take 3-15 days from a bite to develop illness.
Many people have actually had WNV in previous years and have developed an immunity to it. Researchers don’t know how long that immunity lasts however, so all people should try to avoid mosquito bites.
Mosquito season in Michigan doesn’t end until we have a hard freeze. The epidemic of West Nile Virus may continue to escalate for several more weeks. It is very important that Michigan residents take this disease seriously and work to eliminate mosquito breeding areas and avoid being bitten so that the death toll doesn’t continue to rise.
For more information on West Nile Virus see these articles.
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