The first mosquito carrying West Nile Virus flitted into Berks County, Pa., in early May this year – the earliest this virus has been detected here since the state began tracking in 2000. A few weeks later, the virus was found in mosquitos during routine checks in Pottstown and in Lehigh and York counties. Mosquito experts credit the warm winter and wet spring for an earlier-than-usual start to the mosquito season.
So far this year, 18 of 1661 mosquito samples in 14 Pa. counties have tested positive for West Nile, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The virus has also been found in a mosquito in Burlington County, South Jersey.
West Nile Virus is a headline-grabbing health threat. In most people, it causes no symptoms. About one in five develop a fever, body aches and fatigue. And about one in 150 develop brain inflammation and severe symptoms including a high fever and severe headache (which deserve a quick trip to the doctor’s office). In 2011, there were just six cases in Pennsylvania, seven in New Jersey and one in Delaware and most were mild according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The best way to keep your kids safe? Keep mosquitos from breeding around your house, keep them out of your home and don’t be mosquito bait. (read on for how). “People need to balance the joy and pleasure of being outside with being responsible and careful,” says pediatrician Barbara Gold, M.D., of St. Chris Care at Northeast Pediatrics. Her advice:
- Get rid of breeding grounds. Empty flower pots, change the water in bird feeders every other day, empty wading pools, get rid of old trash and any containers that are holding water in your yard, keep gutters cleaned out. It’s also smart to fill in or drain areas where water tends to pond, rearrange tarps and boat covers so they don’t trap water and to fix leaks in faucets and air conditioning units, too.
- Discourage landings. Mosquitos are most active around dawn and dusk. Wearing long pants and long sleeves, avoiding scented soaps and hair products and – if mosquitos are really out in force – using a kid-friendly insect repellent as directed can keep mosquitos off so your kids can enjoy summer evenings.
- Keep them out of your yard. Bats and purple martins, alas, eat few mosquitos. Bug zappers and ultrasonic devices aren’t very effective, either, according to the American Mosquito Control Association of Mount Laurel, N.J. Backyard misters may douse your property with more pesticides than you bargained for, endangering other creatures, the AMCA says. Best bets: Yellow bug lights may discourage hungry female mosquitos (the ones who bite in search of a ‘blood meal’ before egg-laying) from hanging out on your deck or patio. Bug traps may help, as can mosquito fish — top feeding predacious minnows for your ornamental pond.
If all else fails, sit next to someone mosquitos love. These insects are drawn to warm skin, to the carbon dioxide we exhale and to mysterious, yet-to-be-identified compounds among the hundreds humans “emit”. Some people just exude more of the right – or wrong – stuff than others.