‘Buzz’ battle

Published 9:17 am Monday, August 27, 2012

The heat and humidity of the summer months often bring those unwanted guests mosquitoes.

While the insects can be pesky and leave your skin itching and irritated they can also transmit West Nile Virus, a potentially serious disease.

Last week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported the death of a 70-year-old Wayne County man, the state’s first fatality from West Nile Virus this year and the first related death in the state’s recent history.

According to the latest statistics from the US Center for Disease Control’s website, 47 states have reported infections in humans, birds or mosquitoes.

A total of 1118 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 41 deaths, have been reported to CDC. Of these, 629 (56%) were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis) and 489 (44%) were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease.

The total cases thus far this year is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the third week in August since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999. Approximately 75 percent of the cases have been reported from five states (Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma) and almost half of all cases have been reported from Texas.

Locally, Northampton and Herford counties have not received any reports of West Nile Virus, but residents are urged to take precautions to prevent infection.

According to Northampton County Health Director Sue Gay and Hertford County Public Heath Authority Director James Madson, symptoms can mimic other viruses and can vary in patients.

According to the CDC, about one in 150 people infected with West Nile Virus will develop a severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.

Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with West Nile Virus will not show any symptoms at all.

To prevent infection, Gay recommended citizens regularly empty anything that can hold standing water (containers, children’s pools, old tires etc.), which can provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“Be more cautious at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are more active,” she said.

Gay said wearing light colored clothing and long sleeves and pants when outside can prevent mosquitoes from biting. The use of bug spray or repellant can also keep insects away.

While insect repellant can help in keeping mosquitoes away, Gay cautioned citizens on using those containing DEET on children and infants.

She said you should not apply any bug spray containing DEET on infants two months and younger. For children, Gay said the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest using a bug spray containing no more than 30 percent DEET.

Gay noted animals can also contract West Nile Virus and there is a vaccine for equines (horses, donkeys, miniature ponies, etc.)

Most Roanoke-Chowan area towns make an effort to keep the mosquito population in check.

According to Gay, this year the Northampton County Health Department was the liaison for state funding that provided for mosquito spraying to Northampton municipalities.

The towns of Conway and Woodland spray on a need or complaint basis. Meanwhile, the town of Jackson sprays when there is an abundance of wet weather, which provides the perfect conditions for mosquito breeding.

In Bertie County, Windsor Town Administrator Allen Castelloe said the town uses its own certified employees and equipment to conduct spraying.

He said there is no set schedule as to when the town conducts spraying. Typically when there are complaints on one street the town will respond by spraying every street in town. Spraying is conducted more often during wet weather.

“We do it when it’s needed,” he said.

In Herford County, Murfreesboro Town Administrator Brandon Holland said in the past the town sprayed for mosquitoes, but due to a federal government funding cut it is not provided anymore.

“Currently we’re looking at options,” he said. “Town Council has requested we look at what is involved, including certifying employees to conduct spraying and the cost.”The Town of Ahoskie still has its mosquito spraying program in place. Town Manager Tony Hammond said a new spraying machine was purchased this year.

“The old one had seen its better day,” Hammond said. “The new sprayer has a larger capacity and more powerful boom. It allows us to cover a larger area in less time.”

Weather permitting, Ahoskie sprays for mosquitoes twice a week during the summer/early fall months. The entire town is covered, with the spraying taking place during the early evening and nighttime hours.

For more information about West Nile Virus visit the CDC’s web site at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm.