Public health has tips on how to avoid virus spread by mosquitoes

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Mosquitoes are out, so Oxford County public health is warning people about the threat of West Nile virus.

As the temperature rises, public health is encouraging people to cover up and clean up to avoid the virus, an illness that is spread by mosquitoes.

Some tips to avoid getting bitten this summer include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, especially in mosquito-prone area, and wearing bug repellent containing DEET.

Public health also urges people to clean up by regularly emptying water-holding containers such as bird baths, wading pools, pet water dishes and children's toys that could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

People should also clear their yard of old tires, empty flower pots, buckets and any other debris where water collects, keep grass mowed and bushes trimmed in high-use areas, and make sure doors and window screens fit tightly and are free of holes.

Health protection manager Peter Heywood said Oxford County had one confirmed human case of West Nile virus in 2016.

"There can be some very mild symptoms if someone is infected with West Nile Virus - almost flu-like symptoms, a fever, muscle aches, body aches and it can go into a more dangerous form of disease known as encephalitis, which is a serious condition of the brain and requires immediate medical attention."

Encephalitis causes inflammation of the brain and can lead to death.

"West Nile virus comes in the form of a mild illness," Heywood said. "Those symptoms may appear two to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some people may experience a more severe form of the virus, called encephalitis, which is the swelling of the brain. That may include a rapid onset of severe headaches, high fever, stiff neck and disorientation."

As with most diseases, Heywood said public health is most concerned with those who are most at risk, which includes the elderly and young children contracting the virus.

Since about 2002, the county has initiated an adult mosquito surveillance program. Staff collect adult mosquitoes from 10 traps located throughout the county.

"We start it in early June and end it in October," Heywood said. "We collect the mosquitoes in those traps and send them to a laboratory for viral testing. If any of those mosquitoes come back positive with West Nile virus, the laboratory will contact us and that puts us into an elevated risk state.

"Further interventions then may be necessary to reduce the chance of the disease in Oxford County."

bchessell@postmedia.com

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