Monday, September 24, 2012

Answer your stinging questions about West Nile virus and mosquitos!

We hear about West Nile virus a lot in the news lately, because early fall is when infection is most common.  West Nile is a virus carried by mosquitos – the mosquito bites an infected bird and then, when it bites a human, the disease is spread.  The disease was first Crows are one of the birds in whom West Nile virus replicates very quickly; researchers think if people can introduce more birds who don't foster the disease in that way, it wouldn't spread as effectively.identified in 1937 in Uganda, and was first noticed in the U.S. in New York in 1999.  While you might think the spread of West Nile virus is purely a public health issue, it also has implications for our environment.  Many jurisdictions are beginning to spray for mosquitos in order to prevent the spread of West Nile virus.  A few interesting facts about mosquitos and West Nile disease:
  • Mosquitos are actually nectar-feeders; only females feed on blood to support reproduction.
  • Adult female mosquitos usually live 2 weeks to 1 month; males last about a week.
  • Mosquitos have been known to fly up to 3 miles, with the help of the wind.
  • Several different species of mosquito can carry West Nile virus.
  • 4 out of 5 people infected with West Nile virus will show no symptoms; 1 out of every 150 infected people will develop severe infection which is sometimes deadly.
So how do we prevent West Nile?  We’ve got options.  Some aren’t so eco-friendly: 
  • Spray Baby Spray! Permethrin is a common pesticide (alters nerve function by changing the nerve membrane sodium channels) sprayed to kill adult mosquitos. It is also highly toxic to bees.
Some are eco-friendly:
  • Dump that water!  One of the best ways to prevent West Nile infection is to eliminate mosquito breeding areas.  From the CDC:  “Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.”  Remember, mosquitos only need about 1 tablespoon of water to breed.
  • Fashion-forward!  Long sleeves and long pants help to reduce mosquito bites, as does bug repellent.  It used to be that you could avoid being outside during dawn and dusk and you’d avoid mosquitos, but many of the mosquitos that carry West Nile fly during the day
  • Increase bird biodiversity!  A recent study, reported on NPR, has shown that increased bird biodiversity can actually decrease the occurrence of the disease.  So keep planting those native plants and welcoming birds to your yard!
Anyone else have eco-friendly suggestions for avoiding mosquitos and West Nile?
CDC Webpage, Division of Vector Born Diseases.  West Nile Virus.  2012.  Last updated 9/18/2012.  Accessed 9/24/2012.
EPA Website.  Permethrin RED Fact Sheet.  Last Updated June 2006.  Accessed 9/24/12.
National Center for Biotechnology Information website.  2012.  Pubmed Health.  Accessed 9/24/12.
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  West Nile virus webpage.  2012.  Accessed 9/24/12.
WAMU 88.5 Website.  2012.  Bird biodiversity could be key to stopping West Nile.  Accessed 9/24/12. (photo is also from this website)

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