It is mosquito season and West Nile virus has made its way to Beaufort County. Now is the time to take action to protect ourselves from becoming infected with West Nile or other mosquito-borne diseases.
Working together, we can reduce the chances of people getting the disease among the many who live, work and play in this wonderful coastal community. Every local government, business, school, neighborhood association, community organization and individual has a role to play.
From the time West Nile was discovered in Beaufort County in June, county mosquito control staff have been aggressively monitoring mosquitoes, sharing information with the public and spraying to control the mosquito population. The county has been in constant contact with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which provides guidance and technical assistance, coordinates a mosquito-borne disease surveillance program, performs laboratory testing of mosquitoes and conducts outreach to inform the public.
The actions communities and individuals are asked to take are simple, but effective in helping combat mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile: eliminate places where mosquitoes breed and wear repellent to avoid mosquito bites.
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Mosquitoes become infected with West Nile virus after feeding on infected birds. The virus is transmitted to people and animals through the bite of an infected mosquito.
Most people infected with the virus have no symptoms of illness; about one in five infected becomes ill within two to 14 days. The symptoms include fever, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, and occasionally nausea and vomiting. Some may have a rash. The risk of serious illness is low. Less than 1 percent of those infected develop a potentially fatal swelling of the brain, known as encephalitis.
Despite the small risk of serious illness, our response to West Nile must be serious and immediate. We want to limit the chance of someone becoming infected as much as possible.
Two cases of people infected with West Nile virus already have been confirmed in Beaufort County. The virus also has been discovered in mosquito samples and dead birds. Beaufort County isn’t alone: West Nile virus also has been discovered in mosquitoes or birds in other parts of our state, namely Greenville, Kershaw, Richland and York counties.
Finding a mosquito sample that tests positive for West Nile virus is not uncommon. Once such a discovery has been made, we must take appropriate measures to reduce the risk to local residents. For its part, Beaufort County has worked aggressively to control mosquitoes in areas identified as hot spots. Mosquito control spray trucks have been treating the areas regularly since early June; the county also has worked to eliminate breeding sites. Private entities also have been spraying to combat the insects.
The county and DHEC continue to work together to keep residents and visitors safe, but there’s no understating the importance of the role that businesses, communities, individuals and families play in helping defend against West Nile.
The easiest and best way to avoid West Nile virus or any other mosquito-borne illness is to prevent mosquito bites.
Beaufort County and DHEC are urging residents to take the following steps:
Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR 3535 according to label instructions. Repellents help keep mosquitoes from biting.
Wear clothing that reduces the risk of skin exposure.
Avoid exposure to mosquitoes. The mosquito species that transmit West Nile virus are most active in the evening, at night, and early morning. Avoid exposure during these times. Make sure that your doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep out mosquitoes.
Eliminate all sources of standing water on your property where mosquitoes could breed. This includes flowerpots, old car tires, rain gutters and pet bowls. Business owners should be sure to rid their property of sources of standing water as well.
Visit DHEC’s website for additional precautionary measures at scdhec.gov/mosquitoes.
R. Taylor Lee is the public health director of the Lowcountry region for DHEC. Contact him at email@example.com.