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What you can do about West Nile Virus

By By Steve Strong / area horticulature columnist
Aug. 14, 2002
West Nile Virus has struck fear across the state of Mississippi as more than three dozen cases have been confirmed so far this summer.
Mosquito season is kicking into high gear, and folks want to learn more about how to protect themselves and their families against this insect and the diseases it carries.
Right away, people want to know what to spray their homes and landscapes with to get rid of mosquitoes. Sadly, there is not a whole lot the average person can do to affect mosquito populations with pesticides. The best strategy is to prevent being "bitten" (mosquitoes actually pierce and suck) by applying repellent products to skin and clothing.
Insect repellents containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-3-methybenzamide) are the probably the most effective on the market, according to the USDA. Some products may contain as much as 50 percent DEET and provide up to four hours of protection against mosquitoes. Those containing 100 percent concentration give an extra hour of protection.
There have been a number of health concerns about DEET since its introduction in 1957, especially with small children who may have adverse reactions.
Applying this product or other repellents should be safe as long as they are used as directed, but check with your family doctor if you are unsure about what is best for your children.
Alternatives to DEET
Plant-based repellents are another alternative to synthetic compounds. They may include citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cajaput, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic and peppermint.
Studies conflict about the amount of protection provided by plant-based repellents, but the key to success with any of these products appears to be re-applying the repellent to the skin every one to two hours.
Permethrin is another product widely used as a "pesticide" against mosquitoes rather than as simply a repellent. This chemical should be applied only to clothing and not to the skin and it can maintain its potency for several weeks. Permethrin can be applied to camp tents and mosquito nets, and is reported to provide nearly complete protection against the thirsty bloodsuckers when used in combination with DEET skin repellents.
Stagnant water is the breeding area for mosquito larvae. Adults may lay eggs in wading pools, small shallow ponds, backed-up creeks and especially old tires.
Get rid of standing water around the home by turning over wheelbarrows, flushing out bird baths daily with fresh chlorinated water from the tap, and making sure that water garden pumps work to keep water agitated and re-circulating properly.
The good news is that less than 1 percent of all mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus and related Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and that only one in 150 people bitten by an infected mosquito will display any of the flu-like symptoms caused by the diseases.
The bad news is that we are having a very wet summer, and the problem is not likely to get any better until frost comes in November.
Until then, try citronella candles or oil lamps if they make you feel safer, although tests show that the smoke from regular candles works about as well.
Be aware that it's carbon dioxide that attracts mosquitoes and if you are a breathing bird, horse or human, you are the main course this summer. Be careful out there, and for more information contact the Center For Disease Control or the Mississippi State Department of Health.