State Urges Residents to Reduce Mosquito Risks as West Nile Virus Cases Reach Record High

Oct 01, 2018

As humid weather has persisted and reports of West Nile virus illnesses have reached a record level, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection and N.J. Department of Health are urging property owners to take steps to reduce mosquito populations and to protect themselves against the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses.

The department of health reported that human cases of West Nile Virus this year had reached 34, two of them fatal. A 62-year-old man and an elderly woman, both from Bergen County, passed away in September after being bitten by infected mosquitoes.

Monitoring across the state also indicates record levels of pools producing mosquitoes and mosquitoes carrying the virus, which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

“Conditions remain optimal for mosquito breeding, and the species of mosquitoes that can carry the virus can breed in even the smallest pools of water – even toys and discarded cups,” said N.J. Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “People should empty or throw away anything that can hold water – no matter how small – and be mindful of regularly changing water in bird baths and bowls for pets. It’s also very important to make sure that garbage and recycling receptacles have secure lids to prevent the pooling of water.”

The state’s 21 county mosquito-control agencies use a variety of methods to combat mosquitoes, including public awareness campaigns, larval habitat source reduction programs, use of natural predators, water-management techniques and careful application of approved insecticides to manage mosquito populations and reduce the threat of disease transmission.

“The DEP and the New Jersey Department of Health take mosquito control and disease prevention very seriously,” said Ray Bukowski, the DEP’s assistant commissioner for natural and historic resources, which oversees the state’s Office of Mosquito Control Coordination. “Through close tracking in partnership with local health and mosquito control agencies, we are able to focus control efforts to maximize their effectiveness and reduce health risks as much as possible.”

West Nile virus is not spread from person to person, the DEP pointed out. Also, many people who become infected do not become ill and may not even develop symptoms. About 20 percent of infected people will develop West Nile fever.

The virus can become amplified in populations of birds, meaning that a mosquito that transmits the virus to a person has bitten a virus-infected bird. This transmission route can also infect animals, often horses.

Symptoms of West Nile virus in a human can be mild, and include flu-like illness, with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

Severe cases may include high fever, neck stiffness and encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can lead to coma, convulsions and death. Less than 1 percent of infected people will develop severe symptoms. People over the age of 50 and people with weak immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe illness.

Symptoms can appear two to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. There are no vaccines or specific treatments for most mosquito-borne diseases. Those who think they or a family member has contracted a mosquito-borne disease should call or visit a healthcare provider immediately.

According to the DEP, residents, business owners and contractors can take these steps to reduce mosquito populations:

• Empty water from flower pots, outdoor pet food and water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels and cans at least once or twice a week, and turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.

• Check for and remove any containers or trash that may be difficult to see, such as under bushes, homes or around building exteriors, and dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers that have accumulated on the property.

• Drill holes in the bottom and elevate recycling containers that are left outdoors.

• Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens become major mosquito producers if they stagnate.

• Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, including those not in use. An untended swimming pool can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware that mosquitoes may also breed in water that collects on pool covers.

• Clear clogged rain gutters, and repair and clean storm-damaged roof gutters, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees tend to clog drains. Roof gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.

• Use EPA-registered insect repellents when outdoors and wear protective clothing.

• Stay in air-conditioned places or rooms with window screens that prevent access by mosquitoes.

• Repair and maintain barriers, such as window and door screens, to prevent mosquitoes from entering buildings. Barriers over rain barrels or cistern and septic pipes will prevent female mosquitoes from laying eggs on water.

For more information, visit nj.gov/dep/mosquito, nj.gov/health/cd/documents/faq/mosquito_checklist.pdf, nj.gov/health/cd/documents/topics/vectorborne/C2506--Mosquito-borne%20Diseases%20Brochure.pdf and nj.gov/health/news/2018/approved/20180924a.shtml. —J.K.-H.

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