Despite frequent rainfall and flourishing mosquitoes, West Nile Virus has not been a problem for Houston residents so far this year. However, mosquitoes have tested positive in several areas so the virus is out there. Preventive measures are paramount in warding off a severe outbreak such as that in 2012 when 87 people in Texas died of the disease.
West Nile Virus is transmitted mainly through mosquitoes that bite infected birds and then bite humans or other animals. According to Lynne Aldrich, manager of environmental services for The Woodlands Township, not all mosquitoes carry the virus. The culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes, commonly called southern house mosquitoes, are the species that commonly carry WNV, and this particular species can thrive in wet or dry conditions as long as they can find tiny pools of water in which to reproduce.
Citizens are urged to help prevent the spread of West Nile Virus and to protect themselves personally. Ways of preventing its spread include keeping gutter drains clean and dry, and draining any standing water such as in flower pots, old tires, patio furniture, or empty cans. With the frequent rains this year, it's important to do this regularly. Mosquitoes need only a tiny amount of water to reproduce. Wading pools and pet water bowls should be cleaned and refreshed daily. And proper disposal of yard clippings and leaves keeps sewers and drains from clogging.
Personal protection against West Nile Virus includes securing your home against mosquito entry, avoiding outdoor activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active and wearing protective clothing and insect repellent. Three-fourths of people who contract the virus have no symptoms and never know they had it. A few will experience fever, headache, aches, skin rash or swollen lymph glands. Even fewer will experience severe symptoms including convulsions, disorientation, and death.
Finding a dead bird in the yard does not necessarily mean it died of West Nile Virus but birds and wildlife can carry other diseases that are contagious to humans and should be handled only with appropriate caution using gloves or a plastic bag.
In the battle against West Nile Virus, government mosquito spraying programs help but prevention through resident diligence works best.
The Texas Department of State Health Services and the City of Houston Health and Human Services offer more information and statistics on West Nile Virus. For information on mosquito spraying or dead bird pick-up call (713) 440-4800.
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