As summer is coming to an end, one may forget about the continued concern of mosquito bites and how important it is to protect ourselves. The recent rainfall and higher water levels also pose an increased risk for mosquitos due to the potential for standing water, which is a breeding ground for the mosquitos that carry the virus.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reminds Iowans it is important to use insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites, especially if spending extra time outdoors. West Nile virus is transmitted through mosquitoes.
“Our West Nile virus numbers are increasing significantly,” said IDPH Deputy State Epidemiologist Ann Garvey. There are currently 18 confirmed cases of West Nile virus in Iowa and 16 are under investigation. There have been two deaths attributed to West Nile virus this season.
The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to eliminate mosquito breeding areas and to use insect repellent when outdoors. Iowans should take the following steps to reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile virus:
• Use insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Always read the repellent label and consult with a health care provider if you have questions when using these types of products for children. For example, DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months old and oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.
• Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes and socks whenever possible outdoors.
• Eliminate standing water around the home because that's where mosquitoes lay eggs. Empty water from buckets, cans, pool covers and pet water dishes. Change water in bird baths every three to four days.
About 20 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have mild to moderate symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches and vomiting. Less than 1 percent of people infected become seriously ill and rarely, someone dies.
Since West Nile first appeared in Iowa in 2002, it has been found in every county in Iowa, either in humans, horses or birds. In 2017, 12 Iowans were diagnosed with West Nile virus and two Iowans died.
For more information about West Nile virus, visit www.idph.iowa.gov/cade/vectorborne-illness or contact your local health department.
Christa Poggemiller is director of Des Moines County Public Health. Her column appears in Currents the first Friday of each month.