The Westport Weston Health District encourages local residents to take precautions against exposure to mosquitoes in an effort to prevent human cases of West Nile virus.
Since 1997, the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program has trapped and tested mosquitoes for viral infections throughout the state.
In 2010, there were 11 reported cases of human infection in the state (and mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus were found in Westport) and in 2011, there were nine.
Currently the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program is testing mosquitoes for West Nile virus in 91 locations throughout Connecticut, although there has been no detection of the virus within mosquito populations so far this summer.
Dr. Ted Andreadis, chief medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and researcher in charge of mosquito testing with the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program, says the fact that West Nile virus has yet to be detected is not surprising as it takes time for the virus to build up in local mosquito populations.
Usually, the Mosquito Management Program begins to discover infected mosquitoes in late June; their presence peaks in August and is detected up until October.
Usually rainy, wet periods followed by hot, dry periods provide optimal breeding conditions for mosquitoes and encourage and lead to an increased pool of West Nile carriers.
“Given what we have experienced so far this summer, both hot and rainy weather, I am expecting that we will see a lot of the virus shortly,” said Dr. Andreadis. “But it’s hard to predict exactly what we will find.”
Dr. Andreadis added the most common sites at which infected mosquitoes may be found are the ones bordering I-95 between Greenwich and New Haven.
Mosquitoes contract West Nile after biting birds that carry the virus. Humans can only contract the virus if they are bitten by an infected mosquito, so contact with infected birds or people is not dangerous.
Symptoms of West Nile virus usually occur between one and two weeks of initial infection and are mostly mild: slight fever, headache, rash, and swollen lymph nodes. However, harsher symptoms including severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, muscle weakness and coma can also occur.
The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for these more serious symptoms, if infected.
Since 1997, there have been three reported deaths in the state associated with West Nile virus.
The Westport Weston Health District has provided several tips to prevent exposure to infected mosquitoes.
• Limit outdoor activities from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
• If you are outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and use mosquito repellent containing no more than 30% DEET.
• Repellents containing 15% or less DEET are recommended for children, but products containing DEET should not be used on infants.
• Carefully follow the directions on labels for insecticides or repellents.
• Cover arms and legs of children outdoors or near swamps or areas with stagnant water.
• Playpens or carriages can be protected by covering with mosquito netting.
Modifications can also be made around the home, to inhibit the growth of mosquito populations. These are especially important to consider as the species of mosquito most commonly associated with carrying West Nile virus, Culex pipiens, is known as a “domesticated” species since it can thrive in both urban and suburban environments.
Around the home
This is what the Westport Weston Health District recommends doing to limit the amount of stagnant water (mosquito breeding grounds) close to home.
• Remove tin cans, tires, buckets, bottles or any objects in which standing water may collect.
• Potholes, holes, ditches, tree trunks or stumps where water may accumulate should be filled in with sand or cement.
• Keep gutters and drains clean of leaves and debris so water can drain.
• Empty recycling bins, invert trash can tops and empty wadding pools every four to seven days. Store indoors.
• Do not leave swimming pools uncovered without chlorination and filtering.
• Eliminate collected water on boat and pool covers.
• Avoid overwatering of lawns by irrigation or hose.
• Replace water in bird baths and plant saucers every four to seven days.
• Fix any holes in screens and make certain that they are properly attached to windows.
• Construction sites should be cleaned weekly. Remove standing water in machinery, buckets and ditches.