Spring mosquitoes: Fight the Bite!


You will soon hear that all-too-familiar buzz of mosquitoes on the warm breeze.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control reminds South Carolinians to take steps to reduce their risk from mosquito-borne illness.

"To successfully fight diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis, everyone needs to take steps," said Chris Evans, Ph.D., an entomologist with DHEC's Bureau of Laboratories. "One of the most important partnerships we have in this fight is with our citizens, who can assist with West Nile virus surveillance by submitting dead blue jays and crows for testing.

"DHEC will continue its collection and testing for West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases this year," said Evans. "Testing is designed to complement the efforts of local mosquito control programs by providing information about which mosquito species should be targeted for control. We continue to focus our efforts on the best ways to monitor the virus in South Carolina."

According to Evans, evidence of the virus in dead birds is often the first indication that WNV has been introduced into a new region or that transmission risk is high.

Submission dates for blue jays and crows will begin March 15 and continue through Nov. 30. Citizens are asked to follow the directions on the bird submission Web site to pick up and transport the birds to the closest DHEC Environmental Health office for testing.

"Another key factor in the fight against West Nile virus is to reduce mosquito breeding grounds," said Sue Ferguson, an environmental health manager with DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health. "Spring cleaning is the perfect opportunity for reducing mosquito-breeding sites. Look around yards and neighborhoods and eliminate mosquito-breeding sites before mosquitoes set up housekeeping next to you.

"Check your property for low-lying areas and yard items that hold standing water, which is where mosquitoes prefer to lay their eggs," said Ferguson. "Mosquito populations can be reduced by detecting and eliminating breeding sites. Mosquito populations can emerge from very small amounts of water if that water is allowed to stagnate.

"Citizens can look for and eradicate typical breeding sites such as stagnant water in low areas, drainage ditches, tires, bird baths, buckets, gutters, boats, flower pots or any outdoor water-holding containers. People should pay particular attention to those areas and keep them dry. It is important to support local mosquito prevention and control efforts."

Other items to check for during the spring spruce-up:

· Make sure screens on windows and doors are in good repair.
· Clean fallen leaves and other debris out of gutters and spouting.
· Keep birdbaths and pet bowls clean. Flush with clear water and clean out at least once per week.
· Stock ornamental ponds with minnows. Use appropriately labeled products to control mosquito larvae.
· Do not let water stand on swimming pool covers or other tarps covering outdoor items, such as woodpiles, boats, etc.
· Trim and maintain shrubs and grass.

In addition to preventing mosquitoes from breeding, Ferguson said people should practice personal protection measures to avoid mosquito bites:
· Stay inside at dawn, dusk and early evening when mosquitoes are most active.
· If you must be outside during these times, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
· Use appropriate insect repellents according to label directions.

"It is important to learn how to avoid mosquito bites to reduce our chances of exposure to mosquito-borne diseases, as well as to conduct mosquito prevention and control efforts year-round, especially during spring, summer and fall," said Dr. Lena Bretous, epidemiologist for vector-borne diseases with DHEC's Bureau of Disease Control. "Mosquitoes become infected with the virus when they feed on infected birds. They then transmit the virus, during feeding, to humans and animals."

Horses and dogs also can get mosquito-borne diseases. Check with your veterinarian about heartworm testing and preventive medicine for dogs. Vaccines are available to prevent West Nile virus as well as Eastern equine encephalitis virus in equines. Each vaccine should be administered in both spring and fall because South Carolina's mosquito season is so long.

DHEC's West Nile virus Web site reports data gathered from its Bureau of Labs, along with collaborative data contributed by the Department of Natural Resources and Clemson University's Veterinary Diagnostic Center.

For more information or assistance with mosquito control efforts, contact your local mosquito control program. For guidelines on submitting bird samples, surveillance data or more information on West Nile virus, visit: www.dhec.sc.gov/westnile.

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