2006-07-14 / Front Page

Bite back

Residents advised to take pro-active approach against mosquitoes

There are over 2,500 different species of mosquitoes throughout the world and about 200 species exist in the United States alone.

They are best known as the pesky, noisy bugs that leave one distractingly itchy bite. But health officials recognize them for the potentially deadly diseases they carry.

In Massachusetts, residents have to be cautious

of three particular mosquito-borne diseases, most noticeably the West Nile Virus.

According to the Massachusetts Department

of Public Health's Arbovirus Surveillance

on mosquitoes, so far this summer only one Massachusetts town, Needham, has tested positive for West Nile, but Leominster Health Department Director Christopher ed positive for West Nile, but Leominster Health Department Director Christopher Knuth says residents should still be cautious.

"Several years ago there were a few local cases of West Nile so it could be here anytime," he said.

This summer the health department has received several calls from residents wishing to have their streets sprayed with pesticides because of an overabundance of mosquitoes. Three of those calls came from residents living off of Pierce Street.

"I recommend protecting yourself in the early morning hours and at dusk with long sleeves and pants and bug spray with Deet in it," said Knuth. "But don't put it on the skin directly as it burns and irritates, at least it irritates my skin, but people can spray it on their clothing."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, West Nile Virus was first detected in the United States in New York City during the summer and fall of 1999. By the end of 2000, West Nile had been detected in 12 states and the District of Columbia, including all the New England states except Maine.

West Nile Virus can cause serious illness. The most serious form of infection is the potentially fatal encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain and can be found in humans, horses and certain species of birds.

Locally, crows and blue jays are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Symptoms vary in people who are infected. Approximately 80 percent show no symptoms at all. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected display mild symptoms, including fever, headaches, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

About 1 in 150 people infected with West Nile develop severe illness, which can be marked by high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Symptoms can last several weeks, and the neurological effects may be permanent.

In addition to using bug spray, Knuth recommends that any standing water be carefully disposed of or periodically checked. "With all the rain we've been getting people should drain any puddles in their yards or in car tires, anything that holds water," he said.

Leominster is a member of the Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project, which controls mosquito populations by monitoring standing water and through biological control, "larvaciding" and "adultciding." The city health department receives records of all CMMCP activities that take place within the city limits. The health department considers this project to be more important each year due to the increasing number of people affected by mosquito-borne illnesses in the area.

According to the Leominster Health Department's Web site, reports of dead birds are also useful indicators of where to focus mosquito surveillance and bird-testing efforts.

Residents are asked to report any dead birds, especially crows and blue jays to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on their public health information line, at (866) MASS-WNV and choose option one. The sooner the birds are reported, the sooner they can be tested.

"Dead birds are handled in plastic and preserved in ice. They have to be fresh, no older than 24 hours passed,"

said Knuth.

Callers will be asked to give specifics of the bird such as the date and time of death if known, the street address on which the bird was found, and the condition of the animal. All reports are entered into the department of public health's database for surveillance purposes.

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