West Nile virus is off to an early and potentially dangerous start


We’ve now eased into the part of the year when early morning and early evening are the most pleasant times of the day to be outdoors. Alas, humans aren’t alone in that view; dawn and dusk also are the most active times for mosquitoes. This is not simply inconvenient for humans; it is also potentially dangerous.

The state Department of Health announced last week that mosquitoes in two samples collected south of Grandview have tested positive for the West Nile virus. This discovery came very soon after testing began, and the positive reading came almost a month earlier than in previous years. So this is shaping up as a bad year for the West Nile virus.

Mosquitoes get the disease after biting birds, then they can transmit it to horses and humans. Not every mosquito species carries the virus, and not everybody who gets bitten by a mosquito that carries it will get sick. Most people won’t become ill, and a few may endure mild symptoms like headache and fever that don’t require treatment.

But for some people, an infection can be serious or even fatal, with the bite leading to meningitis or encephalitis, and the neurological effects could last a lifetime. Those over age 50 and with weak immune systems are at higher risk for serious ailments.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, and a vessel as innocuous as a birdbath or dog water bowl can be a breeding ground if the water isn’t changed at least twice a week. Standing water in buckets, flower pots and other containers should be dumped.

Humans also can protect themselves by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors at dawn and dusk. Health officials also recommend a bug repellent with DEET, picaridin, or IR 3535; some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products work against mosquito bites. Also, make sure door and window screens are tight enough that insects can’t pass through.

The state Department of Health recommends that those who find dead birds — especially crows, jays, ravens, magpies and hawks — report the news to its website at www.doh.wa.gov, or to the Yakima Health District. A dead bird can be a sign that the West Nile virus is infecting animals and people.

Central Washington tends to have a higher number of cases than other parts of the Northwest; a few simple steps may prove very helpful to your health — and to the health of your neighbors.


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