With the advent of the Zika virus, citizens on the Gulf Coast are interested in learning how to protect themselves from the mosquito-borne illness. A recent article in the Austin, Texas American Statesman offered some tips. The writer pointed out that Texas mosquitoes are not yet thought to be carrying the virus, but they do pose a risk for other illnesses. And in the warm Gulf Coast states, April marks the beginning of mosquito season.
While you may think of “mosquitoes” as a single category, Texas (as an example) has around 85 different species of mosquitoes, and 3,500 species have been identified throughout the world. However, only some of them carry diseases. One species, the Aedes, is capable of carrying the Zika virus.
The Culex mosquito currently poses a greater danger. It transmits the West Nile virus, which causes symptoms such as tremors and disorientation. It can cause inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, which may be life-threatening. In 2012 in Texas alone, there were a reported 1,024 cases of West Nile, and 89 people died from the disease. Some cases, though, are so mild they pass unnoticed. According to internal medical specialist Dr. Gregory Morper:
Something like 30 or 40 percent of the people with the infection are asymptomatic, so they don’t know they have the infection. The (majority) of people have mild symptoms like a viral infection, and only 1 percent have the bad central nervous system response like meningitis, or cephalitis, or a polio-type response of muscle paralysis or complete paralysis.
Health officials speculate 2012 was a bad year for West Nile because of an abundance of mosquitoes, a very warm winter, an unusually high number of infected birds, and a vulnerable population. Similar circumstances are present in 2016.
Many communities along the Gulf Coast address the problem by sending out chemical spray trucks. In some places, cities use EPA-approved tables that are put into standing water to kill mosquito larvae. These efforts are estimated to reach about ten percent of the pests. Health departments also have programs to trap and test mosquitoes, which allows them to collect data on the viruses they carry. They use the knowledge they gain in designing future prevention programs.
Health experts recommend you take a common-sense approach to protecting yourself. Use insect repellent when you are out-of-doors. Wear long sleeves, particularly at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are mostly likely to be active. Use your air-conditioning rather than opening windows, and drain any stagnant water where mosquitoes could breed.