West Nile Virus buzzes in to Tiny
By Jack Ellis
West Nile Virus (WNV) has been so much in the news lately that some folks may now be tuning out. The Tiny Cottager suggests: take the West Nile warnings seriously!
WNV claimed its first fatalities in Uganda in 1937. After numerous outbreaks in Africa and elsewhere, it appeared in New York City (of all places) in 1999. In 2003 it is expected to reach all 48 continental states and most provinces of Canada.
The virus spends most of its life in a host mainly several dozen bird species and then is spread to humans and animals by a vector, namely, mosquitoes. Eight of Ontarios 52 species of mosquitoes have been found to carry it, including culex pipiens, the common house mosquito we all swat each summer at home and at the cottage.
It is important to note that not all mosquitoes are infected with WNV! Do not get paranoid about these wee beasties!
However, a bite from a mosquito that does carry the virus can lead to an infection. Fortunately, most of those infected show no symptoms at all. Of those who do develop symptoms, only a few experience serious complications such as encephalitis or meningitis, that lead to disability or death.
While this is somewhat comforting, it is not much help to the 17 people in Ontario who died from WNV last year nor the many others who experience lingering serious effects.
Public health authorities advise you to seek medical help if you have symptoms such as:
- muscle weakness
- stiff neck
- severe headache
- sudden sensitivity to light
- extreme swelling at the site of a mosquito bite.
These may be symptoms of the WNV illness or other diseases. Let the doctor decide!
You can protect yourself and family members by taking relatively simple precautions during the mosquito season. Minimize or avoid exposure by doing the following:
Cover up, wear shoes, socks, light-coloured long pants and sleeves, especially during the times when mosquitoes are most active (dusk and dawn)
Use insect repellents, only those that are federally-regulated, such as those containing DEET. But be sure to read the user instructions carefully, especially with children. (Some people claim that catnip planted and used around the cottage will help.)
Clean up places around your cottage and lot where mosquitoes can breed.
After taking some heavy criticism for allegedly bungling the WNV situation last year, Ontario is now gearing up for serious action. All Health Units are setting up surveillance programs. Simcoe County Health Unit is preparing to issue warnings to the public in this area as may be warranted.
The Tiny Cottager website, http://www.tinycottager.org, has links to many authoritative WNV information sources.
One indicator of the spread of West Nile into an area is the occurrence of dead birds, typically crows, blue jays and birds of prey. Last year, 21 infected crows and three mosquito pools were identified in Simcoe County. This year, Ontarios first dead bird was found in Newmarket in April, and a second, in downtown Ottawa, was reported on May 22 as testing positive.
If you find a dead bird on or near your property you should report this to the Simcoe County Health Unit (1-877-721-7520). Wear disposable gloves and double wrap the dead bird in plastic for them to collect.
Meanwhile, prepare to enjoy your cottage summer, but take some simple and sensible precautions!
Heres a tip that may kill off some of your mosquitoes:
Put some water in a white dinner plate and add a couple of drops of Lemon Fresh Joy dish detergent. Set the dish on your deck, patio or other outdoor area. Were not sure what attracts them, the lemon smell, the white plate colour, or what, but mosquitoes flock to it. They drop dead shortly after drinking the mixture, usually within about 10 feet of the plate. Try it out!
Mosquitoes breed in the most unlikely places, wherever there is standing water, and usually do not travel very far from their birthplace. All responsible property owners should undertake the following clean-ups to minimize mosquito habitat:
Clean up and empty any containers of standing water such as flower pots, cans, barrels, old tires, etc.
Drill holes in the bottom of used containers so water wont collect
Make sure boats and canoes do not collect water when not in use
Remove water that may collect on boat, pool or furniture covers
Overturn wading pools when not being used, change bird bath water every two or three days
Keep eavestroughs and gutters clear of standing water by cleaning out leaves and twigs
Keep lawns cut and shrubs trimmed
Clear any drainage ditches to ensure they run freely and have no standing water.