With 29 confirmed cases of West Nile virus statewide and probably more that were not reported, the Hendricks County Health Department did some investigating of its own and found that mosquitoes are everywhere.
“We went out on some complaints to a neighborhood to see where they might be breeding and it was a real eye opener for me,” said Cathy Grindstaff, director of environmental health for the county. “We were putting out educational information and looking for breeding sites and we found an untended fish pond. Sure enough, we dipped for larvae and found it there. We found an untended spa, a dirty pool of water full of mosquito larvae, and we kept treating these areas as we went. We found a pickup truck not in running condition that had filthy water in the back and it was just teeming with larvae.”
She said the county health department can handle a lot, but she hopes that people can be educated since that is the real key to snuffing out pests carrying the West Nile virus.
The first case of West Nile virus in the U.S. was reported in New York, N.Y., in 1999. The first recorded case of the virus worldwide was in Uganda in 1937. Last month, state health officials reported the first death associated with West Nile virus for the year.
The mosquito-borne virus isn’t just a risk for those spending time in wooded areas, fishing, or camping. The majority of people who become infected do so while spending time around the outside of their homes, when working in the garden, mowing the lawn, or simply sitting on the porch.
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. Some people will develop a more severe form of the disease with encephalitis or meningitis and other severe syndromes, including flaccid muscle paralysis.
Grindstaff confirmed that there have been cases in Hendricks County over the years.
“We need people to be educated on what they can do in their own yards and communities,” she said. “It appeared to me that these areas might have a higher population of people that were not physically able to do as much in the yard and that’s where they’re going to be breeding. Neighbors need to help neighbors. These mosquitos can travel a mile, so it’s not like you’re totally protected if you’re only taking care of your own yard.”
With autumn on the horizon, Grindstaff said the mosquito problem will intensify as more people are spending time outside between the hours of dusk to dawn now that the temperatures are less taxing.
“The hot weather breeds them, but this time of year you’re getting into culex mosquitos and they’re a different subspecies,” she said. “In the spring, those usually aren’t the disease carrying ones you’re getting into. But West Nile virus came early this year and this is the worst year nationally since it was first detected in 1999. We’re not through it by any means.”
Grindstaff also said that people who like to leave their windows open in the fall with just the screen as a barrier should check for holes and to see if mosquitos are getting into the house that way.
“Until we get our first frost, people need to be diligent,” she said. “At that stage in their life cycle, they need dirty water and later they stick a breathing tube up to the surface. The best thing to do is dump any dirty water you see, because they dry up and die. We could use everyone’s help.”
Health officials advise people to avoid places where mosquitoes are biting; apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaradin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to clothes and exposed skin; install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of the home; and, whenever possible, wear pants and long sleeves, especially if walking in wooded or marshy areas.
To reduce potential mosquito breeding grounds:
- Discard old tires, tin cans, ceramic pots, or other 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;
- Frequently replace the water in pet bowls;
- Flush ornamental fountains and birdbaths periodically; and,
- Aerate ornamental pools, or stock them with predatory fish.
There is no vaccine and no cure for West Nile virus. Anyone who thinks they may have it should see their healthcare provider.
For more information about mosquito safety, visit the Indiana State Department of Health’s website at www.StateHealth.IN.gov.