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A mosquito bite is not always benign. Some mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus, a viral disease that can cause mild to severe symptoms and possible death from infected mosquitoes.
August is the time when the disease peaks, but so far there have not been any human cases in the New York area this year, according to Marcia O'Connor, the city Department of Health's deputy director of the Vector Surveillance and Control Office. She addressed residents at last week's Ozone Park Civic Association meeting, saying that there are several common sense methods to help protect you from the virus.
The DOH said the virus can cause encephalitis (brain inflammation), meningitis (brain lining and spinal cord inflammation) and acute flaccid paralysis, a polio-like syndrome in which muscles become very weak or paralyzed.
O'Connor said that before you protect yourself, there are some facts and misconceptions that should be known.
"West Nile is not spread by casual contact, such as kissing or hugging," she said. "Only female mosquitoes bite. They need blood to reproduce and they often cluster near pools of water, such as birdfeeders, puddles and old tires. Also, mosquitoes are found in grassy, wooded areas. Mosquitoes acquire the virus from taking a blood meal from an infected bird."
Mosquitoes can be reduced by eliminating all sources of standing water near your home because that is where mosquitoes lay their eggs. O'Connor said if you have a pond in your backyard, stock the pond with fish. She said fish eat the eggs from the mosquitoes.
"Change the water in bird baths every three or four days, clean and chlorinate swimming pools and outdoor saunas, use natural larvicide... and turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use," O'Connor said. "Also, use window and door screens."
O'Connor said that most people infected with the virus get mild or no symptoms, but people over 65 are most at risk. Symptoms can include high fever, severe headaches, confusion, tremors, coma and muscle weakness or paralysis and can lead to permanent neurological damage. Usually these symptoms occur between three to 15 days after being bitten, according to the DOH.
Unfortunately, at this time there is no vaccine or specific treatment. In severe cases, hospitalization, intravenous fluids and nutrition and good nursing care may be required.
Other ways to prevent mosquito bites include wearing protective clothing, such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks when outdoors. Using insect repellents containing DEET, picaradin or oil of lemon eucalyptus helps ward off mosquitoes. The DOH said to never touch your eyes or face when applying these repellents.
There are two ways the DOH has been controlling mosquito infestation: spraying pesticides by air and on the ground by trucks. Residents are usually told ahead of time by the DOH by fliers when spraying will occur. Spraying will only happen if a West Nile outbreak is happening in a particular neighborhood.
According to DOH statistics, in 2007 18 human and 30 bird cases of West Nile virus occurred. Queens was noted as having the highest amount of cases, including mosquito pools.
"It is good to be proactive, and if you see standing water, call 311," O'Connor said. "If spraying takes place in your neighborhood and you are sensitive to pesticides or have asthma, stay indoors until the spraying is finished. Anyone who gets an adverse reaction to pesticides should get medical care or call the... Poison Control Center at 212-340-4494."
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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