What’s the best way to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses? Prevent mosquitoes from being born around your home.
“Mosquitoes really only do two things: eat and make more mosquitoes,” said Oklahoma City County Health Department public health specialist Waite Colbaugh. “This year, the mosquito population is booming.”
Mosquito populations are up 80 percent from last year — a particularly frightening statistic in the midst of West Nile virus season.
“West Nile virus cases have been lower this year in comparison to other years, partially due to milder summers,” said OCCHD epidemiologist Cynthia Harry. “The only confirmed case of West Nile in Oklahoma this year was in Major County.”
Which doesn’t mean that luck might not run out, she said. That’s why prevention is still key.
“We recommend the four D’s,” said Colbaugh. “Drain all standing water, use mosquito repellent containing DEET, dress appropriately with long sleeves and pant legs when possible, and stay inside at dawn and dusk — which is when mosquitos carrying the virus are active.”
Why is West Nile virus such a big deal? Because it’s an illness that changes with environmental factors. Although West Nile virus has been relatively low this season, it can cause severe illness and death, said Harry.
“Most people who have it don’t know they have it,” she said. “Only 20 percent of the people who contract the virus have any symptoms, and those will be mild and flu-like.”
But for 1 percent, the symptoms will be more severe — including neurological issues like encephalitis or meningitis, which cause swelling of the brain and surrounding tissues, Harry said.
“The people at the highest risk are those more than 50 years old or people with conditions that compromise the immune system, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, pregnancy and lupus,” she said. “But really it’s best for everyone to be aware.”
There are no specific antiviral treatments for West Nile virus and patients with severe symptoms may require hospitalization to get supportive treatment.
OCCHD will continue trapping and testing mosquitoes through November, as well as monitoring cases reported to local hospitals, Colbaugh said.
“Another way residents can help is to report sources of stagnant water outside their own property,” he said.
To file a complaint about mosquito habitat, residents can call the OCCHD Consumer Protection division at 425-4347 or go online to www.occhd.org/community/environmentalprotection/complaintform.
Greg Elwell is a media relations development coordinator for the OKC-County Health Department.