The Land of West De-Nile

It’s that time of year again – when we can take simple steps to prevent West Nile disease. So why don’t more of us do it? Could it be that many of us are Living in the Land of West Denial? The unfortunate truth is that the West Nile virus has quickly spread across most of America – we all need to pay attention. Like all mosquito-borne illnesses, the best way to prevent West Nile is to go after its whiny little carrier. Now is the time of year to take some easy, sensible steps to make sure you or someone you know does not fall victim to West Nile. This year’s massive increase in foreclosed homes also means that the risk of West Nile is likely to go way up. Why do foreclosed homes mean more West Nile? How can you prevent this disease? And what are the symptoms of West Nile?

Why Do More Foreclosed Homes = More Disease?

Follow me as we together Connect The Dots. More foreclosed homes means more untended property. More untended property means more standing water. More standing water means more mosquitoes. Eek. More mosquitoes means more West Nile. Los Angeles is trying to implement a program to stock abandoned property’s pools with mosquito fish. Wherever you live, there’s something you can do to prevent West Nile.

What To Do To Prevent West Nile:

1) Get rid of mosquito breeding grounds, now, as the spring moves into summer. Specifically, it’s time to tromp around your neighborhood (and your work-place and your kids’ schools, and playgrounds) looking for standing water of any kind. Here are some of the sneaky culprits to look for – waterbowls for pets (either community or individual), empty plant pots, trash items that can collect water, untended birdbaths, plastic wading pools, and untreated fountains. You get the idea – even storm drains that don’t quite drain. Dump what you can – and be sure to politely ask the owners of items on someone’s else’s property for permission prior to doing anything about their standing water. Once a person is educated about the risk of mosquitoes and West Nile, most people will want to let you dump the water or do it themselves.

2) Avoid mosquitoes. The best, easiest way, with the least side effects, is to move inside just before those little suckers (literally) start to come out.

3) Check all your screens – patch holes in places where you rely on a screen to keep out mosquitoes.

4) If you’re out with the tiny, flying vampires, you want to keep covered up. That means, optimally, long pants and long-sleeve shirts. Exposed areas should get some form of repellent. Although DEET is no one’s idea of a great product in terms of potential side effects, it does tend to work – just remember to minimize exposure to DEET – especially in young children.

5) Be a good Samaritan. The very elderly and the very young are the ones who die most often from West Nile. Consider organizing a work party (perhaps it could be a Girl/Boy Scout project?) to go to area nursing homes and scout for standing water. Do you have a frail neighbor? Consider helping with dumping water or offering to patch her porch screen.

6) Stay on it, all summer, keeping an eye out for mosquito disease breeding grounds.

How Do You Know If You Catch West Nile?

Here’s a good site for West Nile symptoms and avoidance instructions from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Although it’s a little old (2005), the information still applies.

1) Only about one in five people get sick when they are infected with West Nile.

2) Symptoms tend to appear 3- 14 days after an infected bite.

3) Those symptoms are usually mild but include headache, fevers and body aches. The disease starts occurring with the onset of warm weather and increases until the first hard freeze, with most human West Nile cases occurring in late summer months.

4) People over 50 are at greater risk for severe disease and death. Severe disease includes encephalitis and meningitis. Encephalitis symptoms include bizarre behavior and confusion, as well as, sometimes, drowsiness. In cases of encephalitis, the entire brain is, literally, inflamed. Meningitis symptoms include a severe headache, sometimes with nausea, and a stiff neck.

Doesn’t everyone hate itchy mosquito bites? Let’s band together and take these suckers seriously…

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