Editorial: Don't ignore mosquitoes and West Nile virus
Given the focus on COVID-19, many of us could be ripe for a sneak attack from another foe -- mosquitoes.
With plenty of recent heavy rain and a stretch of hot and humid weather, the little buggers are back with a vengeance. The concern beyond the annoyance of being buzzed and bitten in the back yard is that some of these pests carry the West Nile virus.
By now, you're well aware of the health risks associated with the coronavirus, but West Nile also is a threat not to be ignored. Common symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle ache. But in some individuals, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis or even death, can occur.
Suburban residents must recognize the potential health problems mosquitoes can cause, separate fact from fiction and take steps to reduce the risks.
Just last month, Lake County Health Department officials announced the first confirmed indicator of West Nile this year was found in a batch of mosquitoes sampled in Hawthorn Woods that tested positive for the virus. There were 61 batches that tested positive in 2019, and there have been 73 confirmed human cases of West Nile in Lake County and four deaths since 2002.
Last year in Illinois, there were 28 human cases and one West Nile death. The virus was found in 46 counties.
The villain is the Culex pipiens mosquito -- females only because males don't bite humans to suck blood -- which are the primary carriers of the virus and they are most prevalent during hot weather.
What can you do to guard against the little bloodsuckers? Follow what some health experts call the "4 Ds of Defense": drain, defend, dawn/dusk and dress.
• Drain standing water in places such as baby pools, flower pots and upside down plastic discs where mosquitoes lay eggs. A plastic bottle cap, for example, provides enough room for 500 mosquito eggs.
• Defend with repellents recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. Products containing DEET are best known but there are others containing picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, catnip oil among the options, including some that are organic.
• Dress by wearing long sleeves, pants and closed toe shoes when outdoors for cover skin.
• Dawn and dusk are prime times for mosquito activity, so be sure to cover skin with clothing and repellent.
Also beware of the plentiful mosquito myths, half-truths and home remedies -- experts say chrysanthemums flowers don't kill mosquitoes, purple martins and bats can't eat enough of them to make a difference and sound-emitting smartphone apps don't work. However, smoke and wind do deter mosquitoes so burn a candle, light a fire or run a fan, and let the bug battle begin.