Interior Health: Take steps to avoid mosquito bites and West Nile virus

Mosquitoes are more than a nuisance; some carry West Nile virus, which is spread from infected birds to humans through mosquito bites.

Some mosquitoes carry West Nile virus

Summer is here and so are the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are more than a nuisance; some carry West Nile virus, a disease that is spread from infected birds to humans through mosquito bites.

Any activity that prevents mosquitoes from biting or breeding can help to reduce the risk of becoming infected with West Nile virus.

West Nile virus (WNv) was first detected in B.C. in the South Okanagan during the summer of 2009. To date there have been three human cases of WNv acquired in our province – all of which have been in the Okanagan.  Last year, several parts of the Canada and the U.S. saw significant increases in West Nile virus activity.

“We would like to remind residents to take steps both here at home and when travelling to avoid mosquito bites this summer,” said Jennifer Jeyes, communicable disease specialist with Interior Health. “While the risk of becoming seriously ill from WNv infection is low for many people, it is higher for some such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It is important to remember there are preventative steps that everyone can take in order to reduce the risk of infection.”

Jeyes offers the following tips:

Use mosquito repellent. Apply mosquito repellent to areas of exposed skin. Check the product label for instructions on proper use.

Repellents containing DEET are safe for those over six months of age when used according to the directions on the label.

DEET-free products are available, but may not provide long-lasting protection. View the HealthLinkBCFile on DEET (link below) for guidelines on how frequently to apply repellent.

Wear protective clothing. If you are in an area with lots of mosquitoes, wear loose fitting, light coloured, full-length pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Avoid perfumes, soaps, hair care products and lotions with floral fragrances.

Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn. This is the time of day that the mosquito species that can carry WNv are most active.

Install screens on windows. Screens will help prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors.

Prevent mosquito breeding around your home. It doesn’t take much time or water for mosquitoes to develop from eggs into adults. Anything that can hold water can be a mosquito breeding area. Identify and remove potential breeding areas on your property.

Empty saucers under flowerpots; change water in bird baths twice a week; unclog rain gutters; drain tarps, tires, and other debris where rain water may collect and install a pump in ornamental ponds or stock them with fish. Stagnant backyard pools can be a big source of mosquitoes and should be maintained regularly to prevent mosquito growth.

B.C. and Interior Health are on the watch for West Nile virus. Surveillance programs include reporting dead birds from the corvid family (crows, ravens, magpies and jays). These birds are more likely than others to die from West Nile virus.

Members of the public are encouraged to report dead corvid birds using the BC Centre for Disease Control Dead Bird Reporting page: http://westnile.bccdc.org/.

– Contributed by Interior Health

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