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Experts warn of health risks from mosquitos

COVINGTON — The damp, humid air that is ruining your hair and seems to be enabling grass to grow inches by the hour is great news for at least one tiny creature — the mosquito. Many areas of the country are reporting the pests are “the worst in years,” and though we don’t know who’s keeping count, Georgia hasn’t escaped a hefty population that seems to have surged in the last several weeks.

One case of West Nile Virus, which is mosquito borne, has been reported in Brantley County near Brunswick, prompting public health officials to urge Georgians to protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes.

“We will have more mosquitoes this year. People may not be seeing them right now because they’re not outside in the evenings (when mosquitoes typically bite) when it’s raining, but as long as the moisture stays up, they’re out there,” warns Jule-Lynn Macie, agent with the Rockdale County Extension Office and an entomologist.

Killing them after they are circulating as adults and biting is not the most effective way of dealing with the problem, according to the Georgia Public Health website.

“The best way to control mosquitoes is to prevent them from breeding or to eliminate them before they become adults,” the site states. “Because the mosquitoes that transmit diseases typically like to breed in human-made containers, you can have a significant affect on local mosquito populations if you reduce mosquito breeding areas on your property.”

Macie said any standing water is an open invitation for the pests.

“You don’t need much water for mosquito larvae, so empty anything in your yard with standing water, even if it’s an empty potato chip bag that flew out of the trash can or an old tire,” she said.

The public health web site offers several suggestions of often overlooked areas of standing water including gutters, puddling in covers of boats or grills, even pet dishes.

“Almost anything that will hold water for one week can produce these pests,” the website says.

And humans aren’t the only ones at risk from mosquito bites. While humans are at risk for West Nile Virus, pets are susceptible to heart worm disease, which is also transmitted through mosquito bites. Although sometimes debilitating process for dogs, for felines the disease is more often a death sentence.

According to public health officials, the bottom line in prevention of disease is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. They offer as tips the “Five D’s” of prevention:

• Dusk/Dawn — Mosquitoes carrying WNV usually bite at dusk and dawn, so avoid or limit outdoor activity at these times;

• Dress — Wear loose-fitting, long sleeved shirt and pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin;

• DEET — Cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, which is the most effective repellent against mosquito bites.

• Drain — Empty any containers holding standing water because they can be excellent breeding grounds for virus-carrying mosquitoes;

• Doors - Make sure doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly, and fix torn or damaged screens to keep mosquitoes out of the house.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus include headache, fever, neck discomfort, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that usually develop three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The elderly, those with compromised immune systems or those with underlying conditions are at greater risk for complications from the disease. Those with questions about the virus should contact their health care providers.

For more information, got to http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm