All the buzz about mosquitoes lately centers on the Zika virus. As the potential for birth defects is huge, we’re hopeful both Congress and the International Olympic Committee take the virus seriously.
Without the particular mosquito species capable of transmitting Zika being native to Kansas, reported cases of the virus here are minimal. In fact, there have been only four — and all have been traced to international travel.
What the Sunflower State does have, however, is the species of mosquito that carries the West Nile virus.
“KDHE does anticipate, from studies they’ve done, that this is going to be a bad year for mosquitoes, specifically the Culex mosquito, which means they are anticipating a bad year for West Nile virus,” said Ellis County Health Administrator Butch Schlyer at Monday’s Ellis County Commission meeting.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment states on its website the most common mosquito-borne disease in both Kansas and the nation is the West Nile virus. Although most of the reported cases have been in Sedgwick County since WNV first hit the state in 2002, the rest of Kansas hasn’t been spared.
Accordingly, state and local officials are advising Kansans not only to be aware of the virus’ potential dangers but how to avoid being infected.
First, the risks. Staff at the Mayo Clinic report most people display no signs or symptoms of infection. More than three-quarters of those bitten by an infected mosquito never will.
But approximately 20 percent will develop what’s called West Nile fever. The condition will last only a few days during which fever, head and body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and skin rash could be experienced.
One percent of those infected develop serious conditions. The virus can cause a neurological infection such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord). The condition can last for a few weeks — or even permanently in the case of muscle weakness.
We point out the risks not to alarm, but merely to inform what a seemingly harmless bite from a mosquito could do.
KDHE recommends remembering the three D’s to “fight the bite.”
• Drain. Mosquitoes live and breed in standing water. It can be in an obvious spot such as a birdbath or a wading pool, both of which should have water changed at least weekly. But water also can collect in clogged gutters and downspouts, kids toys, buckets, even depressions in the yard. All those sources need to be discovered and eliminated.
• Dress. When practical, cover as much of your skin as possible with loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants. That way, mosquitoes simply can’t reach your skin. Wear lighter colors as the pests are less attracted to them. In 100-plus degree days, long sleeves and pants might be a tall order, in which case the third D comes into play.
• DEET. Use insect repellents that contain DEET to cover all exposed skin. There also are other active ingredients approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those who want to avoid DEET. Be sure not to use products that combine insect repellent and sunscreen, as the sunscreen needs to be reapplied more frequently than the other.
Schlyer reported KDHE is expecting a resurgence of West Nile virus this year, “and they said that would probably be statewide.”
That’s worth the proverbial ounce of prevention.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry