Area is on high alert, mos­qui­toes are here

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page -

Mos­quito sea­son has ar­rived and with it the threat of mos­quito-borne dis­eases like West Nile virus, now firmly en­trenched in the U.S., and the emerg­ing in­fec­tious dis­ease, first ap­pear­ing here in late 2015 and whose hor­rific ef­fects we’re still learn­ing about, Zika virus.

Public health of­fi­cials in North­west Ge­or­gia are ramp­ing up their pre­ven­tion ef­forts and urg­ing area res­i­dents to help con­trol lo­cal mos­quito pop­u­la­tions by tip­ping or toss­ing away any con­tain­ers in their yards that can hold wa­ter, thereby elim­i­nat­ing po­ten­tial breed­ing ar­eas.

En­vi­ron­men­tal health spe­cial­ists from county health de­part­ments have be­gun con­duct­ing lo­cal mos­quito sur­veil­lance in ac­cor­dance with the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Public Health’s Zika Pre­pared­ness and Re­sponse Ac­tion Plan. They’re

trap­ping, col­lect­ing, and iden­ti­fy­ing lo­cal mos­qui­toes, hop­ing they don’t find the Aedes ae­gypti species, the so-called yel­low fever mos­quito that loves to feed on hu­mans and is the most com­pe­tent of the Zika-trans­mit­ting mos­qui­toes. The yel­low fever mos­quito has pre­vi­ously been iden­ti­fied in Ge­or­gia only in a very lim­ited area near Colum­bus, but could be else­where, hence the sur­veil­lance.

Another mos­quito com­monly found through­out the state, Aedes al­bopic­tus, the Asian tiger mos­quito, can also trans­mit Zika virus. How­ever, it prefers to feed on an­i­mals in­stead of hu­mans, so it’s not as com­pe­tent trans­mit­ting the dis­ease as Aedes ae­gypti.

Bites from another type of mos­quito com­monly found in North­west Ge­or­gia, Culex quin­que­fas­cia­tus, the south­ern house mos­quito, can trans­mit the deadly West Nile virus, which now reg­u­larly oc­curs through­out the coun­try. Ge­or­gia con­firmed seven West Nile cases in 2016, for­tu­nately no deaths.

Since Zika virus first ap­peared in the U.S., in 2016, all 118 Ge­or­gia cases -- just 4 so far this year -- have been travel re­lated, some­one has be­come in­fected in an area where there is ac­tive Zika trans­mis­sion. But lo­cal trans­mis­sion has oc­curred in Florida and Texas, and public health of­fi­cials are con­cerned that it could hap­pen in Ge­or­gia, too.

“Lo­cal Zika trans­mis­sion is some­thing we hope will never hap­pen,” says Tim Allee, en­vi­ron­men­tal health di­rec­tor for the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Public Health North­west Health District, “but con­ceiv­ably could, so we’ve been pre­par­ing for that pos­si­bil­ity.” How might that hap­pen?

“If a mos­quito bites an in­fected per­son while the virus is still in that per­son’s blood, it gets in­fected and can spread the virus when bit­ing another per­son,” Allee ex­plains. “So even if they don’t feel sick or have symp­toms, trav­el­ers re­turn­ing to the U.S., from an

area with Zika should take steps to pre­vent mos­quito bites for three weeks so that they don’t spread Zika to mos­qui­toes, who can then spread Zika to other peo­ple, which would be lo­cal trans­mis­sion.”

Other travel-re­lated Zika guid­ance urges preg­nant women to avoid travel to af­fected coun­tries and ad­vises fe­male trav­el­ers who are con­sid­er­ing preg­nancy to talk to their doc­tors be­fore head­ing to those des­ti­na­tions. If a preg­nant woman or her part­ner travel to an area with risk of Zika, the cou­ple should use con­doms from start to fin­ish every time they have sex or not have sex for the en­tire preg­nancy, even if the trav­eler does not have symp­toms of Zika or feel sick. A con­tin­u­ously up­dated world map show­ing ar­eas with risk of Zika may be found here:

Cur­rently, no vac­cine is avail­able for Zika virus, so the best way to pre­vent be­com­ing in­fected with Zika or another mos­quito-borne dis­ease, such as West Nile, is by avoid­ing mos­quito bites. This can be done by re­duc­ing ex­po­sure through max­i­miz­ing time in­doors, wear­ing ap­pro­pri­ate mos­quito re­pel­lant prod­ucts, such as DEET prod­ucts, and wear­ing clothes that min­i­mize skin ex­po­sure. Re­duc­ing lo­cal mos­quito pop­u­la­tions around your home is another key Tip ‘n Toss Public health of­fi­cials are em­pha­siz­ing that one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to con­trol lo­cal mos­quito pop­u­la­tions and pre­vent the spread of mosquito­borne dis­ease is by elim­i­nat­ing stand­ing wa­ter around the home and in the yard, es­pe­cially in any sort or size of con­tainer. “Tip ‘n Toss -- it’s a habit we wish ev­ery­one would de­velop and prac­tice year-round,” says Allee.

“We’re urg­ing peo­ple to clean up around their homes and yards to elim­i­nate po­ten­tial mos­quito breed­ing ar­eas,” Allee says, “then con­tinue prac­tic­ing Tip ‘n Toss, es­pe­cially af­ter every rain­fall, through the sum­mer months, into the fall and over the win­ter. If you have things in and around your home and yard that can hold wa­ter, even old bot­tle caps or up­turned mag­no­lia

leaves, get rid of them. Af­ter every rain­fall, and at least once a week, Tip ‘n Toss.”

“Dump out stand­ing wa­ter in flow­er­pots and planters, chil­dren’s toys, or trash con­tain­ers. Don’t al­low wa­ter to ac­cu­mu­late in old tires, rain gut­ters, piles of leaves, or nat­u­ral holes in veg­e­ta­tion. Tightly cover wa­ter stor­age con­tain­ers, such as buck­ets, cis­terns, and rain bar­rels, so that mos­qui­toes can­not get in­side to lay eggs. For con­tain­ers with­out lids and too big to Tip ‘N Toss, such as bird baths and pools) use lar­vi­cides such as mos­quito dunks or mos­quito tor­pe­does -they will not hurt birds or an­i­mals.”

“Most mos­qui­toes of­ten stay within sev­eral hun­dred feet of where they’re hatched,” Allee says, “so you can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the num­ber of mos­qui­toes around your home by do­ing this.” Of course, mos­qui­toes don’t rec­og­nize prop­erty lines, so “con­trol­ling their num­bers has to be

a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort among neigh­bors,” Allee stresses.

Adult mos­qui­toes live in­side and out­side, so keep mos­qui­toes out of your home. Use screens on win­dows and doors, mak­ing sure they are in good re­pair and fit tightly. Use air con­di­tion­ing when it’s

avail­able. Mos­qui­toes are not strong fliers, so us­ing fans on porches and pa­tios can also help re­duce mos­quito ex­po­sure. Per­sonal Pro­tec­tion Us­ing per­sonal pro­tec­tion to avoid mos­quito bites when en­gag­ing in out­door ac­tiv­i­ties is also im­por­tant, says Allee. “Wear light­weight long-sleeve shirts, long pants and socks. Us­ing EPA-reg­is­tered in­sect re­pel­lents con­tain­ing 20-30 per­cent DEET or a prod­uct such as oil of lemon eu­ca­lyp­tus will re­duce ex­po­sure to mos­qui­toes.” For more in­for­ma­tion on EPA-reg­is­tered in­sect re­pel­lants, visit https:// www.epa.gov/in­sec­tre­pel­lents/find-in­sec­tre­pel­lent-right-you

For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact the En­vi­ron­men­tal Health of­fice of your lo­cal county health de­part­ment.

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