Phil Maytubby, chief of public health protection at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, chatted with readers Wednesday about West Nile virus, safety precautions and cases in Oklahoma. Read the entire chat recap here.
How long is West Nile virus season?
The season may last as long as mosquitoes are active, especially through the hot summer months. As the weather cools, mosquito activity level will decline, but they'll be around until we get a good freeze.
What is the Oklahoma City-County Health Department doing to combat mosquitoes?
We use an integrated pest management approach. That includes mosquito habitat reduction and removal, mosquito larvicide application and foremost, educating the public about how to protect themselves from mosquitoes.
Some parts of Texas have used aerial spraying. Could you discuss its effectiveness versus other approaches to prevention?
Aerial spraying is sometimes seen as a last resort when mosquito numbers are very high and other methods are ineffective in reducing mosquito populations. Other methods we're currently using are working well.
What type of bird carries the virus?
Several types of birds may carry the disease. It was originally reported in crows. One of the theories about the emergence of West Nile during a time of drought is that birds are using water sources that are smaller and more stagnant — and those are areas where mosquitoes are breeding.
What can parents use to prevent toddlers from getting bit when playing outside?
It's important to use insect repellent on areas of exposed skin. Long sleeves and long pants are a good idea in dusk to dawn times. We recommend DEET, Picaridin and Oil of Eucalyptus repellents — but of course with young children always read the label for instructions.
It may be comforting to know that few young children develop serious cases of West Nile virus. In Oklahoma there are no cases of WNV in children younger than 9, but they should always be protected from mosquitoes nonetheless.
Why is there a vaccine for horses and not humans?
That's a complicated question. When the virus first emerged it was very hard on the horse population and there was great demand for a vaccine. Humans have the ability to use repellent or to dress appropriately. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with vaccine manufacturers and researchers to determine if it's feasible to produce a WNV vaccine for humans.