Mosquitoes can cause illness. In the past several years many cases of West Nile Virus and La Crosse Encephalitis have occurred in our state. Both of these are caused by the bites of mosquitoes. The most important factor to the mosquito season is that mosquito populations can be reduced or eliminated by removing all potential for standing water such as bird baths, pet bowls, tires, pots, cans and even bottle caps. There is no container too small when it comes to potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes. As you are in your yards and working around your house this spring and summer, be observant of areas that have standing water and look at options to remove or drain these areas. A few days after rain, take the time to walk around the yard, looking for standing water.
If you are unable to prevent standing water that may become stagnant and harbor mosquito growth, check at your local lawn and garden store or farm supply store for products that are called larvicides that will prevent the growth of mosquitoes. These can be sprinkled on the standing water. This prevents the larvae, or even the “squigglers” from hatching into mosquitoes. Prevention of the hatching of the mosquito larvae is the key to preventing mosquito bites in the later summer month. Water in small fish ponds and landscaping will not harbor mosquito growth if the water is circulating.
When you are outside use mosquito repellents containing DEET. Apply sparingly to children before they play out of doors and rinse children off with soap and water when they come back in. Do not apply repellent to the face and hands of young children because they may rub it in their eyes. Use head nets, long sleeves and long pants if you venture into areas with high mosquito population. Make sure your windows and door screens are “bug tight.”
Some myths about mosquito control include that ultraviolet lights and bug zappers as well as ultrasonic devices are effective. They are not. Citronella candles, citronella repellents and garlic are not effective in keeping mosquitoes away. Bats and Purple Martins do eat mosquitoes, but not enough to be a useful control of mosquito bite prevention. Some people are more prone to attract mosquitoes and mosquito bites due to a hormone that they release. Avoiding outdoor times when mosquitoes are most prevalent is also helpful.
If you find that you have an unusual amount of mosquitoes, please call the health department for an assessment to determine if collection of mosquitoes in traps is needed to identify the type of mosquito.
The Mason County Health Department collects reports of dead birds every year from May 1 to October. The purpose of the dead bird surveillance is to establish if West Nile Virus could be in our area. Dead birds serve as an indicator that West Nile Virus is present in the community. This is accomplished by testing freshly, less than 24 hours, dead birds. This year we will be collecting reports of all birds, but only obtaining swab specimens from specific birds if they meet the qualifications for testing. By tracking the number of dead bird reports, the intensity of viral activity can also be estimated because more dead reports suggest more viral activity and a higher likelihood of human cases. If you see a dead bird near your home and it does not appear that the death has been due to trauma, please call the health department at 304-675-3050 to report and if needed, arrangements will be made to collect swab samples.
Once the report is received, the health department maps the location of the report. It is assessed weekly to determine if we have clusters of dead bird reports as well as forwarding this report to the state health department. If the health department does not need to test the dead bird, you should place a plastic bag over your hand, pick up the dead bird and place the dead bird in the garbage. There is no evidence that West Nile can be transmitted just from handling a bird, however, you should always take precautions when handling sick or dead wildlife. Wash your hands with soap and water after disposal of the bird.
For more information on mosquito control or dead bird reporting, call the Mason County Health Department at 304-675-3050.
(Staff note: This is the first of three summer health articles from the Mason County Health Department.)