While the summer season may be almost over, the mosquito season continues into the fall and, therefore, West Nile Virus season also continues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the peak season for West Nile Virus corresponds with peak mosquito season, which is mid-summer to fall. The CDC also reported in August that since 1999, there have been 16,000 human cases of West Nile Virus nationwide. Of that figure, there have been 400 deaths, most of which came from the New York State region.
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has reported that, through the end of August, there have been no reports of West Nile Virus in Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga or Schenectady counties. While that is positive news, we should still be on alert for this disease since there is not a vaccine for it and there have been some reported cases of it already in 2005.
DOH reported the total number of West Nile Virus positive specimens for New York State this year, so far, include 38 dead birds and 117 mosquito pools, and three humans.
This is quite a change from the West Nile Virus outbreaks in past years. In 1999, when 62 people developed encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and seven died. In 2000, "the total number of West Nile Virus positive specimens from New York State ... were 1,271 dead birds, 360 mosquito pools, two sentinel chickens, eight live wild birds, two bats, 28 horses, one domestic rabbit, one squirrel, one chipmunk, and 14 humans cases," according to DOH. Of those figures from 2000, three dead birds were from Fulton County, six dead birds from Montgomery County, and Saratoga and Schenectady counties each had 10 dead birds.
You cannot get West Nile Virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, nor can you get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds. The West Nile Virus is spread from birds to humans by mosquitoes, causing flu-like symptoms in most cases, and in rare cases, encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Fortunately, less than one percent of those with the West Nile Virus will develop serious illness.
When heading into areas that are heavily infested with mosquitoes, try to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin and spray clothing with repellents containing permethrin or DEET, as mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing.
Prevention is always the best form of medicine and county and State departments of health have taken many steps to monitor and minimize West Nile Virus. The key to prevention in this scenario is controlling and reducing mosquitoes. Certain communities are spraying pesticides or placing larvicide "dunks" in standing water to reduce mosquitoes and their breeding grounds. Check with your local health department for the plan in your area.
In the meantime, there are ways you can reduce mosquitoes on your property: eliminate standing water; remove used tires from yards and vacant lots since mosquitoes generally breed in these areas; dispose of discarded soda cans, plastic containers and ceramic pots that can retain water and form breeding grounds; drain water from pool covers; and drill holes in the bottom of recycling or garbage cans that are left outside to allow water to escape.