Is Baltimore County Prepared for a Potential West Nile Epidemic?

While summer months bring plenty of warm weather and outdoorsy fun, it is also the time to be wary of mosquitos carrying infectious diseases. Baltimore County health officials are vigilantly on the lookout for traces of West Nile Virus, but what can be done to prevent an outbreak from occurring this year, and what can be done once the virus once again inevitably makes its way to Maryland soil?

 

Ever since its initial discovery in 1930s Uganda, the West Nile Virus has always been transmitted through the bite of a mosquito – there is no other way to acquire the disease. In humans, the virus generally causes no symptoms for 80% of the population. For the other 20%, however, it can present itself with the same symptoms as a mild flu. People over 60 years of age are the most at risk for having a fatal reaction to West Nile Virus, as are those with compromised immune systems.

 

Marylanders have good reason to worry about the West Nile Virus. In 1999, Maryland was the first state to detect the virus inside of a dead crow. Last year, 3 cases were confirmed in Baltimore City alone, claiming the life of 1 resident. However, there were 6 cases of West Nile Virus in Maryland in 2014, 16 in 2013 (with 6 fatalities), and 19 infections in 2012 (with 1 fatality). In 2013, 7 of the infected were Baltimore County residents, 2 cases were Baltimore County infections in 2012. The worst outbreak in Maryland’s history occurred in 2003, with 73 reported infections in humans, and more than 200 reported instances in horses.

 

To combat the virus, Baltimore County officials have three different complaint lines for residents to report bodies of stagnant water to. Since mosquitos bred in bodies of standing water, the Baltimore County health officials will inspect any complaint to help keep their population under control.

 

If you witness a standing body of water on an owner-occupied residence (for example, puddles of stagnant water in the yard), call (410) 887-3663 or email ehs@baltimorecountymd.gov. For rental properties, call (410) 887-8099 or (410) 887-3351. You may also email paienfoce@baltimorecountymd.gov for rental properties as well. For recreational areas and large commercial sites such as streams, lakes, and ponds, email the Environmental Health Services at ehs@baltimorecountymd.gov to have them take a look. They will forward the complaint to the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Mosquito Control Program if need be.

 

When an individual died of West Nile Virus last year, the Baltimore County Department of Health was quick to instigate a plan of action. They sprayed all communities within a one-mile radius of the deceased’s address, and quickly posted the affected communities online so that residents could take the appropriate measures against infection and transmission of the virus.

 

To combat the possibility of West Nile Virus, health experts recommend you wear long-sleeved articles of clothing around sunrise and sunset whenever possible, and wear hats as well. Homeowners also may want to repair damaged screen windows to avoid letting mosquitos in, fix damaged faucets to avoid standing puddles of water, and keep their rain gutters cleaned as well. In addition, you should wear Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved mosquito repellent (while following the directions exactly as written), and to avoid bodies of stagnant water in the warm summer months.

 

Gardeners should always turn wheelbarrows, wagons and carts upside down when they are not using them to prevent mosquitos from breeding in collected rainwater. They should also keep their garbage can lids overturned for the same reason, change their birdbaths at least twice a week, and if they have an old tire swing, get rid of it for the summer. With a community effort, the mosquito population can be kept in check, and with it, the Baltimore County West Nile Virus infection rates of 2016.

 

RESOURCE LINKS:

 

http://phpa.dhmh.maryland.gov/OIDEOR/CZVBD/SitePages/west-nile.aspx

http://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/mosquito_control.aspx

http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-md-co-west-nile-20150826-story.html

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