Recently, national and local news stations have been filled with stories of West Nile Virus outbreaks in several states. As of the time of writing, there have been 21 confirmed cases of the virus in Georgia, three of which were fatal. With cases like this, it is important that residents learn the facts and become aware of how to best protect themselves.
West Nile Virus was first confirmed in the United States in 1999 in New York City. It was first discovered in Georgia in 2001, and had become nation-wide by 2002, according to UGA Entomologist Elmer Gray.
The Southern House mosquito is the primary vector of West Nile Virus in Georgia. The virus is transmitted into the human bloodstream during normal mosquito feeding. The larval and pupal stages of mosquitos require standing water for proper development.
Eliminating standing water from around your home and neighborhood areas is a good method of controlling mosquito populations.
The Southern House mosquito prefers the nutrient-rich waters of catch basins and storm drains. Because of this, mosquito development is more widespread during dry periods, when heavy rains aren't washing through storm drains.
If there is an area where mosquitos are developing, and elimination of the water is not possible, there are a variety of approved insecticides that target the mosquito's larval stage. Many of these insecticides can be found at local feed-and-seed and home improvement stores.
These insecticides are also available in many convenient formulations to suit your needs, such as liquid or briquette form. As with all pesticides, be sure to thoroughly read and follow the label instructions closely.
The most effective way to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile Virus, is to avoid being bitten by mosquitos.
The best way to avoid mosquitos is with effective use of insect repellants.
The Center for Disease Control recommends using repellants with active ingredients approved by the EPA.
DEET and picardin are widely-available and are considered ‘conventional repellants.'
PMD, IR3535, and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus are all active ingredients that are derived from natural materials and are classified as "biopesticide repellents."
All of these chemicals have been shown to provide long-lasting protection from mosquitos in scientific studies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using products containing DEET with concentrations of 30 percent or less on children as young as 2 months. Most of the other approved products are labeled for children 2 years and older.
Another technique for avoiding mosquito bites is to wear light-colored, loose clothing. It is also important to make sure all screens on windows and doors around your house are in good condition.
August and September are the peak months for human cases of West Nile Virus in Georgia. It is important that we all stay informed and protect ourselves when possible.
Additional information can be found on the Georgia Mosquito Control Association and the American Mosquito Control Association Web sites.
Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.