Health officials preparing for spring already

  • PANEL ANSWERS WEST NILE QUESTIONS
    *Further targeted spraying of repellent is scheduled for Cleveland. For specific information on West Nile spraying locations across Greater Cleveland, consult the city of Cleveland Web site (link in the "On Action News Now" section of this page, right) or call the West Nile Hotline at (216) 443-5679.
    *If you have additional questions or just want to report areas of standing water, you are encouraged to call the Health Department at (216) 664-2769.

CINCINNATI (AP) - Public health officials are worried that thousands of people could be sickened by the West Nile virus as a widely infected mosquito population comes out biting next spring.

Ohio already ranks third in the nation for West Nile reports -- 371 confirmed and probable cases that include 17 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

"Every major community in the state should be making plans for increased mosquito control next year, and to make it a permanent service," said Dr. Richard Berry, chief of the state's vector-borne disease unit.

Epidemiologists at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at many state and university laboratories will spend the next few months poring over case reports.

They will analyze the spread of the virus, which causes symptoms from mild fever to life-threatening encephalitis. At the same time, public health officials will discuss how to budget, staff and prepare public education plans.

Berry recommends forming regional mosquito-abatement districts that rely on a combination of larva control, eliminating sources of stagnant water, education and more use of chemical spraying.

But that is expensive, and spraying has critics, too. They say pesticides have dubious effect, can aggravate breathing problems in some people and do unwanted harm to bees, butterflies and fish.

"Ohio does need better mosquito control, as long as it doesn't include the spraying of pesticides, which is almost totally ineffective," said Barry Zucker, director of the Ohio Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.

Officials are concerned about an increase in cases next year because of the way the virus spread this year. In the Cleveland area, birds and mosquitos were widely infected in 2001, which resulted in 201 human cases there so far this year, the most in the state.

Around Cincinnati, the virus spent much of 2002 becoming established in mosquitos and birds, which in turn infected humans later in the season.

Hamilton County, which has had 27 cases this year, spent an estimated $80,000 to $120,000 on mosquito-control efforts this year. By comparison, the Toledo area spends $2 million, mostly from a local property tax assessment that amounts to about $10 a year for a $100,000 home.

Lucas County, which has had 10 cases this year, maintains several specially equipped trucks and staff to conduct regular spraying to kill adult mosquitoes. The trucks roll through neighborhoods at night on a rotating, publicized schedule, emitting a fog of insecticide.

The department doesn't issue warnings for residents to avoid the spray, but people can ask to be called in advance if they have special medical concerns.

Hamilton County has been hoping to avoid spraying to kill adult mosquitoes.

West Nile virus is typically transmitted by infected mosquitos, but federal health officials learned last month that it can also apparently spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants, although they consider the risk low.

The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are trying to develop a test so blood banks can check for West Nile virus in donations, but officials say it could be months away.

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The West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito and can infect people, horses, many types of birds and some other animals.

West Nile virus can result in a severe and sometimes fatal illness known as West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Residents are reminded to take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Avoid outdoor activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are likely to be biting.
  • If you must be outdoors when mosquitoes are active, cover up by wearing shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeve shirts. Light colors are less attractive to mosquitoes.
  • Use mosquito repellent containing DEET, according to label directions. Adults should use repellent with no more than 30 percent DEET; for children, 10 percent or less.

Also, to eliminate mosquito breeding sites:

  • Eliminate any standing water that collects on your property.
  • Remove all discarded tires from your property or put them under cover so they don't collect water.
  • Dispose of empty tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers.
  • Make sure roof gutters drain properly. You should clean clogged gutters in the spring and in the fall.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs. If not in use, keep empty and covered.
  • Drain water from pool covers.
  • Change the water in birdbaths at least once a week.
  • Turn over plastic wading pools, wheelbarrows, etc., when not in use.
  • Remind or help neighbors to eliminate breeding sites on their properties.
  • Keep windows and doors closed and make sure screens are in good repair.