Mosquitoes test positive for West Nile

(Published August 11, 2003)

Mosquitoes in Northwest Washington have begun to test positive for West Nile virus, prompting city health officials to remind residents to take precautions against contracting the mosquito-borne illness.

James A. Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Health, announced Aug. 7 that the positive insect pools were collected from the 3000 block of M Street NW and from the 3000 block of North Capitol Street NW. Health department workers have larvicided and distributed literature at those two locations and the surrounding eight blocks.

"Keeping residents and visitors safe from this disease is a priority for us," Buford said in a press release issued by his office. "We are asking residents and businesses to help reduce the risk of the West Nile virus by eliminating mosquito breeding sites around their homes and businesses."

DOH conducts mosquito surveillance and mosquito control in all eight wards of the District in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Army and the National Park Service. The department no longer collects and tests dead birds because West Nile virus is now considered endemic in the District. However, DOH does track and record dead birds and requests that the public call the West Nile virus call center at (202) 535-2323 to file a report on a dead bird.

This year, no human cases of West Nile virus have been reported in the District. Last year, 360 birds, 84 mosquito pools and 31 humans tested positive for the virus in the District.

West Nile virus in humans generally causes no symptoms, or may cause mild flu-like symptoms and is rarely severe, health officials said. The risk of humans acquiring West Nile virus infection is considered low. Even if a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, the chance of developing illness is approximately 1 in 300, health officials said.

Officials advise senior citizens and those with suppressed immune symptoms, who are more vulnerable, to stay indoors when mosquitoes are active. If persons must be outdoors, officials advise wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and applying insect repellent with DEET to exposed skin according to manufacturer’s directions.

Persons with a severe illness should seek medical attention promptly, officials said. Additional information about West Nile virus is available on the health department’s Web site at http://dchealth.dc.gov.

Officials also offer these tips to lessen the breeding of mosquitoes around homes and businesses:

1. Dispose of cans, bottles and open plastic containers properly. Store items for recycling in covered containers.

2. Remove discarded tires. Drill drainage holes in tires used on playground equipment.

3. Cover tires stored outside before each rain and uncover them promptly afterwards to prevent water from standing on the tarps.

4. Clean roof gutters and downspouts regularly. Eliminate standing water from flat roofs.

5. Turn over plastic wading pools, wheelbarrows, and canoes when not in use.

6. Cover waste containers with tight-fitting lids; never allow lids or cans to accumulate water.

7. Flush bird baths and potted plant trays twice each week.

8. Adjust tarps over grills, firewood piles, boats or swimming pools to eliminate small pockets of water from standing several days.

9. Re-grade low areas where water stands and clean out debris in ditches to eliminate standing water in low spots.

10. Maintain swimming pools, clean and chlorinate them as needed, aerate garden ponds and treat with "mosquito dunks" found at hardware stores.

11. Fix dripping water faucets outside and eliminate puddles from air conditioners.

12. Store pet food and water bowls inside when not in use.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator