If you spend much time outdoors, you probably see the small cardboard boxes hanging in trees along sidewalks, trails and in parks. The boxes are mosquito traps to test the pests for West Nile virus, potentially deadly to humans.
West Nile has been in our area for more than a decade and emerges as the summer heats up. Preventing seemingly minor mosquito bites not only can save you from serious illness – it can save your life, said Santa Clarita family practitioner Michael Pin, M.D.
West Nile is found in birds and mosquitoes and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that bite infected birds and then prey on us. Most people bitten by mosquitoes do not become ill – but a small proportion do, suffering symptoms including fever, headache, rash, muscle weakness and nausea and vomiting. A smaller proportion may develop neurological symptoms such as limb paralysis, tremors and altered mental status.
Since 2008, 438 people have been infected with the virus in Los Angeles County, and three people have died. The potential for much greater infection and death is there. Last year in northern Texas, an estimated 80,000 people contracted the virus – 300 of those people became seriously ill; 19 died. That surge followed an unseasonably warm Texas winter where mosquitoes didn’t die off, increasing their summer populations. And with global climate change, warmer, wetter winters appear to be increasing across the country.
So far this year, West Nile has been found locally in mosquitoes and birds from the South Bay to the Antelope Valley. Last year, there were three findings in Santa Clarita, in the Saugus area, according to county records. And while the odds are slim of falling ill to West Nile, the prevention is simple and definitely worthwhile.
“Unfortunately, there is no treatment for West Nile infection, and at present there is no vaccine to prevent this infection,” Dr. Pin said. “But there are many inexpensive things you can do to make sure that your family has a reduced risk of this infection.”
Dr. Pin suggests:
* Wear a mosquito repellent, preferably one that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET. Follow directions for re-application and for recommendations for children.
* Make sure your window and door screens are in good order.
* Clear any standing water – fountains and pools need proper maintenance.
* Add a safe pesticide such as Mosquito Dunks to neglected swimming pools.
“Mosquitoes are like vampires – they bite when the sun goes down, so apply your repellent if you are outside one hour before dusk and one hour after dawn,” Dr. Pin said. “And finally, if you’re traveling this summer, don’t forget to pack repellent for your entire family.”
About Providence Health & Services
Providence Health & Services, Southern California, is a Catholic not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing quality and compassionate health care and reaching out to the poor and the vulnerable in the communities it serves. Providence Southern California operates five award-winning acute-care medical centers in the Los Angeles area, providing a full continuum of healthcare services: Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, Providence Tarzana Medical Center, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers in Torrance and San Pedro. The region also has numerous ancillary facilities including Hospice care, long-term care, numerous outpatient clinics, Providence Medical Institute, Providence High School and an affiliation with Facey Medical Group. For more information, visit California.providence.org.