McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 24, 2013

Expert urges West Nile precautions

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — It’s that time of year again, when the spring rains have ended; the weather’s getting hotter — and it’s time to start taking steps for protection against West Nile virus.

“We’re approaching West Nile virus season,” said Pittsburg County Health Department Administrator Michael Echelle.

“We’re already getting reports of mosquito activity, but no confirmed cases of West Nile,” Echelle said.

He would like to keep it that way.

“We’re urging residents to take precautions,” said Echelle.

Last year, Pittsburg County had 12 confirmed cases of West Nile virus. Although no fatalities were reported in  the county, several of the cases were severe.

Statewide, 15 deaths were reported from the mosquito-borne illness and 178 cases were confirmed.

Asked if health officials were concerned about heavier concentrations of West Nile virus this year due the recent heavy spring rains, Echelle said “It’s hard to predict the severity of West Nile virus.

“Last year we had the heaviest concentration of West Nile virus we’ve seen.”

That’s why personnel with the Oklahoma State Department of Health are hoping county and state residents take precautions this year.

Those include what Echelle calls “the four Ds.”

Echelle advised individuals to be particularly vigilant about protecting themselves from mosquito bites around the times of dusk and dawn, when the Culex mosquito that cause the West Nile virus is usually most active.

“We want to recommend using insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and clothing,” Echelle said, using the common acronym for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, an oily substance used in many insect repellents. DEET also provides protections against ticks.

Some insect repellents contain DEET in 100 percent concentrations, as well as in smaller levels.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website states “DEET should not be used on children younger than two months of age.”

Current guidelines from the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that products with 10 to 30 percent DEET should be used for children older than 2 months.

“The concentration of DEET varies significantly from product to product, so read the label of any product you purchase,” the AAP website states. “Children should wash off repellents when they return indoors.”

Another of the “Ds” to remember when dealing with West Nile virus is to periodically drain containers with standing water.

“With as much rainfall as we’ve seen, obviously conditions are ideal for mosquitos to lay eggs,” Echelle said.

Containers with water should either be drained completely, or emptied every few days — such as containers containing water for pets, for example.

Any container holding water for from three-to-five days should be emptied, Echelle said. In the case of outdoor pets, the containers should be filled with fresh water — which then should be emptied again in a few days.

Also, all openings into homes should be closed, such as spaces between windows and outside air conditioners, and holes in window screens.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.