Letter: Do your homework about mosquito-borne diseases

To the editor:

With the coming of warm weather and spring rains, we can expect mosquitoes to make their yearly appearance.

In most cases, mosquito bites are only annoying. However, Indiana mosquitoes have been known to carry serious viral infections that can be passed to other animals, including humans.

In 2015, for example, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 21 human cases of West Nile Virus, a disease that can cause severe illness or death. Three of the people who contracted West Nile in 2015 died from the disease. Even for survivors, West Nile virus can cause lifelong disability.

In Brown County, there were no reported human cases of West Nile virus in 2015; there were, however, two positive tests for West Nile Virus in the mosquito population.

This year, a new mosquito-borne illness known as the Zika Virus may reach parts of the United States. Currently widespread in parts of South America, the virus is spread by mosquitoes which become infected when biting an infected human.

In some cases, the Zika virus has been associated with serious health problems including fetal malformations, blood disorders and Guillian-Barre syndrome.

While no cases of the Zika have yet been acquired from mosquitoes in the continental U.S., people traveling to areas with the virus have been diagnosed after returning home.

The newness of the virus to the human and insect populations makes its spread and impact difficult to predict.

While there is no evidence of Zika virus in Brown County, the Indiana State Department of Health has notified health departments that one type of mosquito that can carry the Zika virus is found in southern Indiana.

The species that is present in Indiana is not the main carrier, which is the Aedes aegypti.

Though, at present, the chance of exposure to Zika Virus in Indiana is thought to be very low, West Nile Virus is a known and very real threat throughout the state. The health impacts of both West Nile and Zika viruses are potentially devastating.

To prevent exposure to all mosquito-borne diseases, screen-protected homes, protective clothing, repellents and elimination of breeding sites are all effective measures.

Mosquitoes can breed in even small amounts of standing water that we often have around our homes: for example, birdbaths, discarded containers and old tires.

The Brown County Department of Health is a resource for information about mosquito control and information about mosquito-borne diseases. The department can be reached at 812-988-2255. The health department website is browncountyhealthdept.org/browncountyhealthdept/Home.html.

The Indiana State Department of Health has information about both West Nile and Zika Viruses on its website — for Zika virus, in.gov/isdh/26910.htm and for mosquito-borne diseases, in.gov/isdh/23592.htm.

Cathy Rountree, member, Brown County Board of Health

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