CDC asks residents to 'Fight the Bite' as mosquito season starts

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   As warmer weather settles across the nation and residents everywhere are beginning to plan vacations, picnics and fishing trips, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reminding residents to watch out for a flying pest which could turn deadly.
   With the onset of warm weather, mosquitos are becoming active and with their awakening comes the awakening of the West Nile virus season.
   According to information from the CDC, one case of a person infected with the West Nile virus has been reported in the country so far. That case was reported in Ohio. Cases of the disease in the bird, animal or mosquito populations were reported in New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California.
   The reported case of the virus appearing in a human in Ohio was reported as a "neuroinvasive disease" which according to the CDC refers to the most severe type of disease linked to the virus because it affects a person's nervous system. Specific types of the neuroinvasive disease include West Nile meningitis, West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningoencephalitis. "Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain, meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord, and meningoencephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain and the membrane surrounding it," states information from the CDC on the diseases.
   In addition to the neuroinvasive disease, another type of illness linked to the West Nile virus is known as West Nile Fever, which is characterized by fever, headache, tiredness, aches and sometimes a rash. The illness can be as short as a few days but can last for several weeks.
   In 2003, only four states in the country reported no cases of the virus at all -- Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Out of the remaining states and the District of Columbia, only Maine reported the presence of the disease in the bird, animal or mosquito population but did not have any reported cases of the disease's presence in humans.
   Nearly 10,000 people suffered from some form of the virus last year, according to the CDC, as states reported 9,858 cases of the disease's presence in humans. Of those cases, 2,863 were reported as neuroinvasive. Across the country, 262 died as a result of the virus last year according to the CDC.
   Tennessee reported a total of 26 cases of West Nile virus present in the human population with one person who died as a result of the disease.
   The Midwest region of the United States was hit hard by the disease in 2003. Approximately 74 percent of the cases reported in the nation were reported in eight states in the Midwest region -- Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas and Wyoming -- and half the reported deaths linked to the disease came from that area as well.
   Colorado was hit harder than any other state in the nation with nearly 3,000 cases -- or 30 percent of the national total -- reported in that state alone. Colorado also had the most deaths linked to the disease with 61 deaths reported, more than twice the number of any other state.
   This sometimes deadly virus was first discovered in Africa and is commonly found on that continent as well as in Western Asia and the Middle East, according to the CDC.
   "West Nile virus was first isolated from a febrile adult woman in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937. The ecology was characterized in Egypt in the 1950s. The virus became recognized as a cause of severe human meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain) in elderly patients during an outbreak in Israel in 1957," states information from the CDC on the disease. "Equine disease was first noted in Egypt and France in the early 1960s. WNV (West Nile virus) first appeared in North America in 1999, with encephalitis reported in humans and horses.
   "The subsequent spread in the United States is an important milestone in the evolving history of this virus. It is not known how long it has been in the U.S., but CDC scientists believe the virus has probably been in the eastern U.S. since the early summer of 1999, possibly longer."
   In an effort to combat the spread of West Nile virus, the CDC is recommending several ways which residents can help eliminate potential breeding grounds for mosquitos as well as some safety measures which can help people to avoid being bitten by the winged pests.
   Clothing can help reduce a person's likelihood of being bitten by a mosquito. The CDC recommends that whenever possible, a person should wear light-colored long-sleeved clothing, long pants and socks when going outdoors. "Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or DEET will give extra protection," said the CDC. "Don't apply repellents containing permethrin directly to skin. Do not spray repellent containing DEET on the skin under your clothing."
   The CDC recommends that residents apply an insect repellent containing DEET -- look for N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide on the list of ingredients -- to exposed skin when going outdoors. "Even a short time sitting outdoors can be long enough to get a mosquito bite," the CDC warns.
   According to the CDC, residents can use both a sunscreen product as well as an insect repellent containing DEET at the same time. "People can and should use both sunscreen and DEET when they are outdoors to protect their health," states information from the CDC. "Follow the instructions on the package for proper application of each product. Apply sunscreen first, followed by repellent containing DEET."
   One way that the CDC is recommending that residents "mosquito-proof" their homes is by eliminating standing pools of water. "Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by getting rid of items that hold water," advises the CDC, adding that residents should also install or repair existing screens in their windows and doors to help keep mosquitoes out of their houses.
   The CDC also advises residents to be aware of the peak hours of mosquito activity. "The hours from dusk to dawn are peak mosquito biting times," states information from the CDC. "Consider avoiding outdoor activities during these times -- or take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing during evening and early morning."