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Preventive measures help to avoid West Nile virus

Thursday, August 7, 2008

There has been two confirmed human cases of West Nile virus in Arkansas in 2008, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). The 2008 cases have emanated from the center of the state but the viruses are located through out the state, authorities said.

ADH said Arkansas had 20 human cases and one death during 2007 and 29 human cases with four deaths in 2006. The ADH has also confirmed one case of St. Louis Encephalitis, which is another mosquito-borne illness.

According to James Phillips, M.D., director of the Infectious Disease Branch at the ADH, West Nile virus has become an everyday fact of life in Arkansas.

"This means that to protect yourself you should avoid being outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. If you have to be outside, wear long-sleeved clothing and protect yourself with a good insect repellent. It's also a good idea to drain standing water around your home in places where mosquitoes can breed," Phillips said.

Keeping a close eye on the virus and its migration, is the ADH and its partners. Surveillance methods include mosquito trapping and testing and wild bird testing. The Health Department is requesting the public to assist with surveillance for West Nile virus by watching for dead birds and bringing them to local health units for testing.

"Our surveillance efforts across the state depend heavily on help from the public. We need for folks to send us dead blue jays, robins, crows, hawks and owls that they find on their property so that we can test them for the presence of West Nile virus," Phillips said.

According to the ADH, West Nile virus is transmitted by infected mosquitoes to humans, horses and other animals after feeding on diseased birds, which are the host animals. Symptoms of human West Nile virus infections typically begin within 14 days following the insect bite and consist of fever, muscle and joint aches and listlessness.

In more severe cases, headaches may indicate encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). "There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection; avoiding mosquitoes is the best prevention," ADH said.

To reduce your risk of contracting the virus, follow these protective measures: Stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active, usually at dusk and dawn. When it is necessary to be outdoors, wear protective clothing and use mosquito repellent that is FDA approved.

ADH stresses that when using insect repellent that includes DEET, extreme caution is advised and all directions are to be followed carefully.

"If you believe you or your child is having an adverse reaction to a repellent containing DEET, wash the treated area immediately and call your health care provider," an ADH report said.

Two additional insect repellents have recently been approved by the EPA and are recommended along with DEET by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for protection against mosquitoes, according to ADH.

"The first is Picaridin, which is a chemical compound found in many insect repellents popular in Europe, Australia, Asia and Latin America. Evidence shows it works very well and is equally as effective as DEET for personal protection," the report said.

"Picaridin is not to be used on children under the age of 3. The second is oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is plant-derived and is as effective as low concentrations of DEET for prevention of mosquito bites. Both products are widely available now and offer good alternatives to products containing DEET," ADH said.

DEET continues to be the most effective choice when long hours of exposure to mosquitoes are anticipated or when rigorous physical activity is planned, which can diminish the presence of the repellent through perspiration. As with any product, follow label directions carefully and use only in the manner described, ADH said.

According to authorities, mosquitoes can breed in any body of water, from small containers such as tires and tin cans, to large bodies of water like lakes or marshes. These breeding places create a variety of mosquito problems.

The ADH offers advice to help stop mosquitoes from breeding. Arkansans should:

* Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers.

* Remove all discarded tires from your property.

* Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.

* Make sure roof gutters drain properly and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.

* Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.

* Change the water in birdbaths.

* Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.

* Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.

* Drain water from pool covers.

* Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property.

* Make sure all windows and doors have screens in good repair.

The Department of Health is continuing to monitor the state with regard to mosquito-borne diseases. The CDC is providing a hotline where individuals may ask questions about West Nile virus: 888-246-2675; 888-246-2857 (Spanish).

For more information, visit the ADH Web site at www.healthyarkansas.com/services/westnil... information.htm or call the ADH hotline at 877-296-9555.

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