Summer means the kids are out of school and you’re working hard to organize the next camping trip or family barbecue. While you take precautions to protect your family from the heat and sun, don’t forget about that other dangerous mainstay of the summer season– the mosquito. Mosquitoes are not only pesky nuisances in the summertime, they can carry and transmit deadly diseases. Here in California, the native mosquitoes are known to infect humans with West Nile virus, Western equine encephalitis, and other encephalitis viruses. Due to their diminutive size, many people underestimate the danger of these insects. However, mosquitoes are, in fact, the deadliest creatures on earth. They have the capacity to transmit the protozoa that cause malaria and the viruses that cause dengue and yellow fever in other parts of the world. Because of this capability, these tiny, flying blood-suckers are responsible for millions of human deaths each year. That is why the week of June 24 through June 30 is being recognized as National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.
“Mosquitoes are already here along with the diseases they carry,” says Joseph Conlon, Technical Advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association. “While we cannot make them completely disappear, we must be prepared to prevent their spread throughout our public health landscape.” Conlon believes community awareness and education are integral to preventing mosquito-borne diseases.
While National Mosquito Control Awareness Week helps kick off the busy mosquito season throughout the U.S., mosquito populations are already on the rise here in Southern California. With the increasing number of mosquitoes comes the increasing risk of West Nile virus transmission. This week, the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District confirmed the first positive indication of West Nile virus activity in Los Angeles County this year. A dead crow from the city of Sierra Madre tested positive for the mosquito-borne virus. Birds acquire the virus through the bite of an infected mosquito and serve as reservoir hosts to the virus. The virus spreads when another mosquito bites the infected bird and subsequently passes the virus on to other animals or humans when it feeds again.
Although only one in five people infected with the virus will develop symptoms, West Nile virus can be fatal. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk for severe infections. Symptoms can range from headaches and flu-like symptoms to paralysis and death.
West Nile virus and mosquitoes won’t likely keep you and your family from enjoying those outdoor summer events, but the health and safety of those you love is sure to be a top priority. To prevent mosquito breeding around your home and reduce the risk of mosquito-borne disease infections, be sure to dump and drain all standing water around your property. All mosquitoes need water to reproduce and develop, so getting rid of water in containers, trash, birdbaths, and out-of-service fountains can prevent these insects from breeding in your yard. It’s also important to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites. Apply effective repellents such as those containing DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or lemon of eucalyptus oil to keep those mosquitoes away. If you find a mosquito breeding source that is too large for you to handle, contact your local mosquito and vector control district. For more information, visit the California Department of Public Health’s West Nile virus website at www.westnile.ca.gov.