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Column: Bad news — the West Nile Virus is still around, too
Rudi Kiefer

Every Georgia resident has at least once been awakened by a little high-pitched “eeeeeeeh...” sound. Mosquitoes are the Earth’s ultimate pest because they bother us with a triple hit: sound, itching discomfort, and follow-up disease. 

The good news is that there’s no evidence for coronavirus transmission through mosquito bites. The bad news is that another bad one, the West Nile Virus (WNV), has never disappeared. The mosquitoes common in Georgia can spread the disease it brings, with headaches, fever, rash, joint pains, and other unpleasantries. There is no vaccine. The State Department of Public Health reported 36 cases and 2 deaths a year ago. The latest known WNV occurrence was in September 2019. Obviously we don’t know how many unrelated cases there are. Many might consider their illness as a case of “the flu” or a “bad cold.” Luckily, the Culex mosquito that carries WNV prefers birds. But it will bite humans when it has a chance.

The spindly little black-and-white buzzer landing on your arm is probably an Aedes mosquito. It too can carry diseases, including Zika and yellow fever. Malaria parasites ride with Georgia’s third type, the Anopheles mosquito. 

Most mosquitoes crave human blood not for food but to enable their reproduction. Besides blood, they need standing water for their larvae. So our strategy should be to deny them both blood and water. The best repellent is diethyltoluamide (DEET). It’s non-carcinogenic and works by putting a vapor barrier on the skin that prevents mosquitoes from landing. Smell has nothing to do with it. For short-term protection, like picking the blueberries or watering the garden, an inexpensive spray with low DEET concentration (about 7% to 10%) will do. For protection needed longer than 2 hours, high concentrations are required. The label will tell you.

DEET doesn’t kill mosquitoes. But we will at least want to disrupt their family planning. Mosquitoes don’t travel far. What bites you was probably born nearby. After each rain storm, I like to walk around the property and find items that collect water. Clogged-up flower pots, tree stumps, a tarp, a forgotten coffee cup — after 2 days, they could all serve as mosquito nurseries. A creek is no problem if all the water keeps flowing. Where there are swampy areas with open water, it’s worth checking whether it can be made to either drain, or flow. 

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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