The Tennessee Department of Health is urging people to protect themselves from viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. Last year Tennessee experienced 33 human cases of West Nile virus, including one in December.
“It is extraordinarily unusual to see a confirmed case of West Nile virus in December in this part of the country, and it does cause concern and a need for increased awareness,” said Abelardo Moncayo, Ph.D., with the TDH Division of Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness. “While four out of five people with West Nile won’t show symptoms, others will develop severe illness and may suffer death or permanent neurological damage.”
Those at higher risk for serious complications from WNV include the elderly, persons who abuse alcohol and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Symptoms usually appear between three to 14 days after a mosquito bite occurs and may include fever, aches and fatigue early in the illness. Those with severe illness may experience neck stiffness, disorientation, stupor, tremors, convulsions, loss of vision, numbness and paralysis.
Persons who think they may have West Nile virus should seek medical care immediately. Treatment of severe cases of WNV often involves hospitalization, administration of intravenous fluids, assistance with breathing and nursing care.
Mosquitoes become infected with West Nile virus by feeding on infected birds and can transmit the virus through their bites not just to humans, but also to horses, family pets and livestock. While there is now increased awareness of the disease, many may not be aware mosquitoes in Tennessee may carry many serious illnesses, such as Eastern equine encephalitis and La Crosse encephalitis, which mainly affects children.
There are a number of effective ways to control mosquitoes in your neighborhood and to protect yourself and your animals from harm:
- Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk; be mindful of their feeding patterns and take extra precautions at these times.
- Eliminate standing water near your home, which can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Many containers, even those as small as a bottle cap, can hold enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
- Keep wading pools empty when not in use and store them on their sides. Replace water in bird baths weekly and don’t allow water to stand in buckets or barrels. If you have a rain collection barrel, make sure it has a tight-fitting screen on the top.
- Keep windows and doors closed or cover with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.
- Use insect repellants such as DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 on your skin, following all label recommendations for usage. Pay particular attention to recommendations for use on children, and never apply any of these products around the mouth or eyes at any age. Consult your health care provider if you have questions.
- Certain products containing permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear. Permethrin is highly effective as a repellent. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills mosquitoes and other pests and retains this effect after repeated laundering. Some commercial products are available pretreated with permethrin. Permethrin is not to be used directly on skin.
- Do not use perfumes, colognes or scented deodorants or soap if you’re going outside, as fragrances may attract insects.
- Remember “long, loose and light” when selecting outdoor wear. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best, and for improved effectiveness, tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants to form bug barriers. Wear loose-fitting clothing to prevent bites through the fabric. Light-colored clothes are less attractive to many insects and may allow you to spot them more easily.
“Mosquitoes aren’t simply a backyard nuisance; they are potential carriers of many life-threatening diseases,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “This has always been the case in many areas of the world with diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and now West Nile virus, causing suffering and sometimes death. We all have a responsibility to reduce mosquito breeding areas near our homes to protect our neighbors and ourselves.”
Thus far this year, there have been four active cases of malaria and two cases of dengue fever in Tennessee; in 2012 there were 11 cases of malaria and six of dengue fever. All involved travel outside of the United States, providing evidence that mosquito-borne illnesses continue to be a serious health threat.
For additional information about mosquito-borne illness, visit the American Mosquito Control Association website www.mosquito.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=39&Itemid=116.
For more information about West Nile virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, go to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm.
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.