Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ALERT: West Nile Virus
Chadron, Nebraska

It's official HERE. West Nile Virus has been found in Chadron after sampling local mosquitoes. I'm supposed to report the two dead birds that I found in my yard in the last couple weeks. I don't remember the dates I found them and I don't even know if the birds are still out there considering all the outdoor cats living on my block.

I wonder what life was like before insect testing and public health alerts. What atrocity it must have been to go about daily routines without a worry on your pretty little mind. Mark my words, tomorrow every single child in the Chadron vicinity will be slathered with insect repellent full of DEET (also known to be toxic) and will be wearing long sleeves and long pants in the mornings and evenings (despite the fact that we're now having daily temps over 100). No one will step outdoors unless absolutely necessarily. Phone lines will be buzzing with the most recent alert as well as mothering chat boards with alerts of all to do to stay safe. Emails will constantly be mass forwarded to all in the surrounding area reminding everyone to be on alert for any changes in their children.

Not that the above are bad things--it's good to stay abreast of health issues. But I've discovered that most media outlets will not usually put things in perspective. It's all fear, fear, fear. So I'm here to do my part. Here's a little information for those who are interested. As of THIS year:

According to the CDC, there have been 28 cases reported of West Nile Virus in ALL of the United States this year. Of those 29 cases, 19 reported a fever and 9 reported encephalitis or meningitis. There have been no reported deaths.

In 2007, the State of Nebraska reported 163 cases of West Nile Virus. 142 reported a fever and 21 reported encephalitis or meningitis. There were 4 deaths in the state of Nebraska which is 2% of the total cases in our state. Across the entire nation, WNV deaths accounted for only 3% of those reported infected. When viewing these statistics, it's important to remember that many mild cases go unreported--MANY. The CDC reports that approximately 80% of those infected with the virus show absolutely NO symptoms whatsoever. That really blows that 3% stat out of the water. The death to infected ratio is much smaller.

Remember that DEET is considered toxic to some degree (even by the EPA) resulting in seizures and even death for a very small percentage of users. It has less negative effects if the user follows the strict directions on the label which is to NOT use it under clothing or on damaged skin (look for any cuts, scratches, or rashy areas) and to wash off after you are back indoors (and between applications). Use as little as possible, never apply indoors, do not let children apply it by themselves, and never apply directly to your face. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics requests that parents NEVER use DEET on an infant less than 2 months old. Keep in mind that it also may damage some synthetic fabrics and even plastics according to DHHS.

What do we do now?
First, no need to panic. Try to continue life as usual. You'll have an unusual awareness of all outdoor activities, obviously. Here are suggestions on how to maintain some level of safety:

1) Use some type of mosquito repellent. CDC suggests repellent with one of the following:
    • DEET
    • Picaridin
    • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus* or PMD the synthesized version of oil of lemon eucalyptus
    • IR3535
"EPA characterizes the active ingredients DEET and Picaridin as “conventional repellents” and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, PMD, and IR3535 as “biopesticide repellents”, which are derived from natural materials."

2) Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs. This primarily means stagnant water that is unmoving including water in flower pots, standing brush on your property, clogged roof gutters, old tires, etc. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services give a LONG list of ways to do this that you may not have thought of before. Click HERE for more information.

3) Repair (or install) window and door screens where mosquitoes may enter the home. (YAY! Finally an excuse to fix our front door screen!)

4) At dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most likely to be out and about, wear long sleeves, pants, and socks (or consider staying indoors).

5) Remember that not ALL dead birds are a concern. Click on the picture below to see what type of bird to look for--the ones with the green line are the important ones.

And, I'm out of time yet again. Since I never seem to have time to finish a post, I'm gonna go ahead and publish this as is. I'll have to finish up more research at another time and add on here if/when I find something important enough to add.

*UPDATE* One of my most favorite people sent me the following. Good stuff!

fyi, garlic, which i love to eat and mesquites hate is a wonderful repellent. the smell comes through the body and onto the skin as does the smell of blood. Skitters run...and if eating it is aint your thing, just plant it and green onions around--anything in the onion family. they don't like it. not a great repellent, but a start. also planting lemon grass (which smells lovely to us, horrible to mesquites) in those places you'd rather the bugs not be is a good idea. and its a tasty herb as well. look online for other homemade insect repellents. avon skin-so-soft body oil doesn't work for me but others swear by it.

For more information, you can visit the following websites:

Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/wnv_factsheet.htm
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/puh/epi/wnv/general.htm
Panhandle Public Health District: http://www.pphd.org/West_Nile.htm

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