Officials offer tips to avoid West Nile virus

COVINGTON -- Just because temperatures are dropping doesn't mean residents should drop their guard when it comes to protecting themselves from mosquito bites. The Georgia Department of Community Health has issued a press release warning Georgians to be on guard against West Nile Virus.

"Protection and prevention are two important areas to focus on," said Alana Sulka, Director of Epidemiology for Rockdale, Newton and Gwinnett County Health Departments. "Protection entails wearing appropriate repellent containing DEET, and avoiding the times during the day when mosquitoes are most active. Prevention includes such activities as frequently emptying birdbaths and flowerpot trays, and removing all artificial containers that can hold water."

DCH recommends Georgians to take the following precautions to protect themselves and their families during these periods:

* Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk.

* Consider using insect repellent containing DEET. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label.

"Insect repellent helps reduce your exposure to mosquito bites that may carry West Nile Virus or other diseases, and allows you to continue to play, work and enjoy the outdoors with a lower risk of disease," said Rosmarie Kelly, entomologist with DCH's Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases Team. "Mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus are more likely to bite during the evening, night and early morning."

Mosquitoes need water to breed. By removing areas of standing water, you will eliminate breeding grounds and reduce the number of mosquitoes. The following precautionary measures are recommended to reduce exposure to mosquitoes and risk of West Nile Virus:

* Dispose of old tires. Regularly empty any metal cans, ceramic flower pots, bottles, jars, buckets and other water-holding containers.

* Turn over plastic wading pools, outdoor toys and wheelbarrows when not in use.

* Keep swimming pools clean and properly chlorinated. Remove standing water from pool covers.

* Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets.

* Keep gutters cleared and sloped to the downspout.

* Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left outdoors.

* Make sure windows and screens are in good condition. Repair any holes in screens.

* Purchase and use Mosquito Dunks or Mosquito Torpedoes (larvicides used to kill mosquito larvae) to control mosquitoes in areas with standing water and in containers that cannot be dumped.

A total of nine cases of West Nile Virus have been reported since 2002 in the East Metro Health District, which includes Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett, according to spokeswoman Suleima Salgado. The most recent was reported in Gwinnett County in April. There were no reported cases of West Nile Virus in Rockdale County in 2008 or 2009.

Symptoms to be mindful of include headache, fever, neck discomfort, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and rash. People with compromised immune systems or other underlying conditions are at greater risk for complications from the disease. In rare cases, West Nile Virus can cause encephalitis -- inflammation of the brain -- or meningitis -- inflammation of the spinal cord and lining of the brain.

For more information on West Nile Virus and prevention methods Georgia, visit www.health.state.ga.us.