COURT HOUSE - Cape May County Freeholder Kristine Gabor announced that the Health Department has begun its annual testing program to track West Nile Virus in Cape May County.
Spring is the season to spend more time outdoors and enjoy the many opportunities for outdoor activity -- biking, walking, jogging, playing sports, etc. But…when you’re outside this spring and summer, so are the mosquitoes! In addition to painful, itchy bites, mosquitoes can also carry serious diseases. Health Officer Kevin Thomas reminds residents that as we all enjoy the warmer weather; we shouldn’t forget to take steps to protect ourselves and our family against diseases that are carried by mosquitoes, including West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis.
The Cape May County Departments of Health and Mosquito Control work together each year to monitor these diseases and to target control efforts. “The public can help prevent mosquito-borne disease by doing three things,” said Thomas – “remove standing water on your property, report dead or ill bird sightings to the Department of Health, and avoid mosquito bites.”
Remove standing water: There are several steps people can take to reduce mosquito habitat around their homes. Standing water should be drained from items like pool covers, saucers under flower pots, recycle bins, garbage cans, etc. Old unused items that can collect water, like tires, should be removed and gutters should be cleaned regularly to prevent clogs that can trap water. During the day mosquitoes prefer to rest in thick vegetation in irrigated gardens. Keeping bushes trimmed, grass cut, and garden soil on the dry side will discourage resting mosquitoes around the home.
Report dead or ill bird sightings: To know where West Nile virus is circulating, call the Health Department to report ill and dead bird sightings. Birds may be collected for testing and information is shared with Mosquito Control, who may test mosquitoes in these areas. Please keep in mind:
1. Only “freshly dead” birds (those dead less than 24 hours) will be evaluated for testing. Once the birds decompose, they are unsuitable for testing.
2. ILL/dead bird reports can be made by phone between 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 465-1209. If appropriate, Health Department personnel will retrieve the dead birds.
3. On the weekend, reports should wait until Monday. If you wish to preserve the bird, place the bird(s) in a zip lock plastic bag or a plastic bag with a tie and refrigerate it in a cooler. Although handling a dead bird cannot transmit the virus, gloves should always be worn when handling wildlife.
4. Even if a dead bird is unsuitable for testing, reporting a dead bird to the Department of Health is still useful information!
Avoid mosquito bites: When participating in outdoor activities, particularly during the early morning hours (dawn) and the early evening hours (dusk), you should wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and use mosquito repellent.
West Nile virus (WNV) and eastern equine encephalitis are primarily transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito that has acquired the virus from an infected bird. Most WNV infections are mild and persons often have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be mild or severe and show up 3 to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Mild symptoms include flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness and swelling of the brain (encephalitis) which can lead to coma, convulsions and death.
Most people infected with eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus have no symptoms; others get only a mild flu-like illness with fever, headache, and a sore throat. Persons experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care. In rare cases, infection of the central nervous system occurs, causing sudden fever, muscle pains and a headache of increasing severity, often followed quickly by seizures and coma. In these rare instances, about one third of patients die from the disease. Of those who survive, many suffer permanent brain damage.
Residents who have questions on reporting dead birds should contact the Health Department at 465-1209 or check the Department’s website at cmchealth.net.