Preventing mosquito bites and the illnesses they bring is the responsibility of everyone in the community, and officials at the Mason County Health Department are spreading the word about the problems associated with these pests.
Mosquitoes can cause illness, and in the past several years, many cases of West Nile Virus and La Crosse Encephalitis have occurred in West Virginia. Both are caused by the bites of mosquitoes.
Diana Riddle, administrator and nurse director at the health department, said the most important factor to the mosquito season is that mosquito populations can be reduced or eliminated by removing all potential for standing water such as bird baths, pet bowls, tires, pots, cans and even bottle caps.
“There is no container too small when it comes to potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes,” Riddle said. “As you are in your yards and working around your house this spring, be observant of areas that have standing water and look at options to remove or drain these areas.
“A few days after a rain, take the time to walk around the yard, looking for standing water,” she continued. “If you are unable to prevent standing water that may become stagnant and harbor mosquito growth, check at your local lawn and garden store or farm supply store for products that are called larvicides that will prevent the growth of mosquitoes. These can be sprinkled on the standing water. This prevents the larvae, or even the ‘squigglers,’ from hatching into mosquitoes.”
She added that prevention of the hatching of the mosquito larvae is the key to preventing mosquito bites in the later summer months.
Riddle also encouraged the use of mosquito repellents containing DEET, which should be applied sparingly to children before they play outside and rinsed off with soap and water. The repellents should not be applied to the face and hands of young children because they could rub it in their eyes. The use of head nets, long sleeves and long pants are important in areas with high mosquito population, and residents should make sure that their windows and door screens are “bug tight.”
Riddle also addressed some myths about mosquito control, including that ultraviolet lights and bug zappers as well as ultrasonic devices are effective. They are not. Citronella candles, citronella repellents and garlic also are not effective in keeping mosquitoes away. Bats and Purple Martins do eat mosquitoes, but not enough to be a useful control of mosquito bite prevention. Some people are more prone to attract mosquitoes and mosquito bites due to a hormone they release. Avoiding outdoor times when mosquitoes are most prevalent is also helpful.
Riddle said the health department collects reports of dead birds every year from May 1 to October. The purpose of the dead bird surveillance is to establish if West Nile Virus could be in the area. Dead birds serve as an indicator that West Nile Virus is present in the community.
The reports are accomplished by testing birds that have been dead for less than 24 hours. This year, Riddle said officials will collect reports of all birds but only obtain swab specimens from specific birds if they meet the qualifications for testing.
“By tracking the number of dead bird reports, the intensity of viral activity can also be estimated, because more dead reports suggest more viral activity and a higher likelihood of human cases,” Riddle said. “If you see a dead bird near your home and it does not appear that the death has been due to trauma, please call the health department to report and, if needed, arrangements will be made to collect swab samples.”
She said that once the report is received, officials will map the location of the report. It is assessed weekly to see if the county has clusters of dead bird reports.
If the health department does not need to test the dead bird, residents can use a plastic bag to pick up the dead bird and place it in the garbage. Riddle added that there is no evidence that West Nile Virus can be transmitted by handling a bird; however, she encouraged people to take precautions when handling sick or dead wildlife.
For more information about mosquito control or dead bird reporting, call the health department at 304-675-3050.