MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Alabama Department of Public Health) — The Alabama Department of Public Health is reminding people of the importance of protecting themselves from mosquitoes to avoid potential viral infections.
The reminder has been prompted by recent cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) that have been reported in Michigan and Massachusetts. This specific virus has been circulating in the United States for decades, but it remains a threat for severe and life-threatening illness.
In 2019 to date, Alabama has reported West Nile virus (WNV) case counts that include one person and two horses. In general, WNV is considered much less severe when compared to EEE for the vast majority of people and animals infected.
Several viruses, commonly referred to as arboviruses, circulate in mosquito populations and are transmitted when the mosquito feeds on humans and animals. In addition to EEE and WNV, Alabama routinely reports cases St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE). Other viruses such as chikungunya, Zika virus and dengue have been reported throughout the past few years. Infections with these arboviruses are usually seen in returning travelers after visiting infected regions of the world.
According to Dr. Dee Jones, ADPH state public health veterinarian, just because the case counts are low for Alabama, it should not deter people from continuing to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitos.
“EEE is a virus that can have very concentrated areas of infection due to having the proper environment for the host mosquito to flourish, and when this happens, a small geographic focal point can have several human or animal infections,” Jones said.
Jones said infections in animals such as horses can be considered a warning sign of circulating viruses in the mosquito population, but positive animals do not increase the viral activity in the area, nor increase the risk to humans. Mosquitoes are typically infected only when they feed on an infected bird.
Humans and animals are dead-end hosts for most arboviruses seen in Alabama, which means an uninfected mosquito cannot become infected from feeding on an infected human or animal. This is not true, however, with Zika virus and chikungunya, which in recent history have become a threat. Mosquitoes are more abundant and pose the greatest risk from late spring to early fall in most areas of the state.
“Outdoor activities are increasing as the weather becomes more pleasant, like community youth league sports, fall festivals, and of course, football season. The best treatment is prevention,” Jones said.
Savannah Duke, an entomologist for ADPH, recognizes that people want to enjoy the outdoors and avoiding mosquitoes altogether is not practical. She recommends the following strategies for reducing mosquito exposure:
-Stay indoors if possible, especially during the dusk and dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active.
-If you go out during the dusk and dawn hours, wear light-colored, tightly woven, loose clothing and insect repellent.
-Wear enough insect repellent to cover skin and clothes that contain one of the following EPA-registered ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD or IR3535.
-Contact your health care provider with concerns about repellents.
-Do not use repellents under clothing.
-Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
-Always follow instructions when applying insect repellent to children, and do not use repellents on babies younger than 2 months or oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under 3 years old.
-Spray repellent on hands first and then apply it on children and faces. Do not apply to eyes or mouth; apply sparingly around ears.
-After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
-Keep window and door screens shut and in good condition. Repair holes.
-Inspect your yard for places a mosquito could use to breed. Eliminate breeding sites.
-Dispose of containers that collect water, like buckets, cans, bottles and jars.
-Repair leaking pipes and outside faucets, unclog drains and gutters.
-Empty and scrub birdbaths, pet bowls and animal troughs to get rid of mosquito eggs.
-Dispose of unused tires. Overturn wheelbarrows, tubs, wading pools or store them under cover when not in use.
-Keep weeds, vines and grass trimmed.
-Fill tree holes with sand or mortar.
-Change water in flower vases and pots twice weekly.
For more information, visit ADPH’s website.