Dr. Mark Kishel is a pediatrician and an executive with more than 30 years of health care experience. He currently serves as managing medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia.
How do you know if the mosquitoes buzzing around you are dangerous?
This particular offending mosquito is very distinctive – spots and strips, black and white. It came here from Asia and brought the first cases of West Nile virus, which appeared in New York City in 1999. While this Asian mosquito has now spread to the South (including Georgia), other local mosquitoes have also become carriers, by biting infected humans and/or birds and then transferring the virus to others by biting them.
In the vast majority of cases, the illness is so mild it may not noticeable at all. For some, it can cause a mild flu-like illness, but for others it can invade the brain and cause a more severe illness or even death.
According to the CDC, there are a total of 1,590 reported cases of West Nile virus in the United States, resulting in 66 reported deaths. The Georgia Department of Public Health has currently identified 22 confirmed cases of the virus in our state – three of these cases have been fatal. All these figures are subject to change as the West Nile season continues.
There is no vaccine to prevent West Nile virus. However, people who are bitten and contract the illness will develop immunity to the virus. The illness does not spread from human to human directly, but requires a bite from a mosquito that carries the virus.
So we know that the virus is here. What can you do?
First, stay indoors when mosquitoes are biting (usually at dusk or dawn), or if you need to be out, wear clothes that cover your arms and legs. Avoid marshy, wet areas, as they are areas where mosquitoes breed and develop. Keep doors and windows open only when necessary, because local mosquitoes, which also now carry the virus, can enter your home. Place screens over your windows and doors if they need to be open. Place mosquito netting over infant strollers or baby carriages when outside.
Second, check outside your home to make sure you don’t have environments that are known breeding grounds for mosquitoes. For example, standing water in a bucket or baby pool or even in a small can or tire can attract mosquitoes, and that is where they will lay their eggs, breeding more mosquitoes. Make sure to remove those items and/or empty the water.
Apply insect repellant if you need to be outdoors for any length of time. Be especially careful when applying repellant to children. Avoid applying it to their hands, as it can get into their eyes and mouths. And here are two reminders: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellants used on children contain no more than 30 percent DEET. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than two months.
With the West Nile virus, an ounce of prevention can save your life and the lives of your family members.
This column is not written by Georgia Health News. The author is solely responsible for the content.