Our Opinion: Not just a bug bite
While the mainstream media has hopped on board the Ebola scare wagon, a very real illness, though granted not as fatal, has made its presence known in the Green Mountain State.
On Friday, the Vermont Department of Health announced the first positive test for West Nile Virus in mosquitoes collected from a pool in St. Albans city. And West Nile Virus means other mosquito-borne illnesses are probably also present.
"The first detection this summer is a reminder that West Nile virus is around -- and Eastern Equine Encephalitis probably is too -- and people should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites," said Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist for infectious disease.
In 2013, 28 of the 1,328 mosquito pools sampled by the state tested positive for West Nile virus and there was one confirmed human case of infection last year in a Lamoille County resident who recovered.
Symptoms of West Nile virus are often mild, but can include high fever. Approximately 1 percent of people who are infected develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system, such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can be fatal.
There are measures we can take to protect ourselves against mosquito-borne illnesses and they include wearing long sleeves and pants and avoiding outdoor activities at dusk and dawn. Property owners are advised to reduce mosquito breeding habitats by getting rid of standing water, and by draining areas where water can pool such as rain gutters, wading pools, and old tires. The Department of Health recommends using repellents that contain DEET, but at no more concentration than 30 percent for adults and 10 percent for children age 3 and older (For those concerned about any possible side effects related to DEET, there are alternatives available, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains DEET is the most effective way to keep mosquitoes from biting). And to keep mosquitoes out of the house, it's important to install or repair screens on windows and doors.
Whether you agree or not with the 97 percent of climate scientists who insist global climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, West Nile Virus and Triple E could be the least of our worries as our neck of the woods gets warmer and hotter.
"The most significant alteration in climate, whether global in scale or localized, will be the shifting patterns and distribution of infectious diseases," writes Bill Miller for the Christian Post.
We are already seeing the changes, and not just with West Nile Virus and Triple E, he notes.
"Malaria spreading to the highlands in Africa ... has been linked to the changing distribution of disease carrying mosquitoes relating to climate change."
And, to make matters worse, the transmission of infectious diseases can be only a plane flight away. While one population of humans might be resistant to certain diseases, microbes or pathogens, another population halfway around the world might not be.
"If the balance of immunological accommodation is upset, far-reaching health consequences can be anticipated, "writes Miller. "There may be unexpected outcroppings of old pathogens or susceptibility to new ones. Long quiescent plagues could resurface."
The media is already full of the latest scare story about diseases, most recently the slow uncontrolled creep of Ebola in Africa. But we are also hearing more about familiar diseases, such as Lyme, that are taking an unquantifiable toll on our health and well-being. And then there are diseases with names we are not sure how to pronounce, such as Dengue fever and Chikungunya. The aforementioned malaria and Yellow fever are making unwelcome comebacks in areas where they were under control and are finding their ways into areas where they were never seen.
There may not be much we can do to prevent the spread of these infectious diseases, unless we are willing to resort to the wholesale spraying of insecticides such as DDT, and we know from "Silent Spring" that those methods have their own pitfalls.
Unless a miracle insecticide is produced that does no harm except to mosquitoes, or global climate change is stopped and reversed, both of which we doubt, we will have to deal with these diseases the best we can. While there is reason to be worried, fear is not the best response. The best prevention is awareness and the implementation of the steps noted above. For more information on mosquito-borne illnesses and prevention methods, visit www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes or mosquito.org.
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