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Fraser Health reminds residents to "fight the bite"

With mosquito season in full swing, Fraser Health reminds residents to fight the bite from mosquitoes at home and when traveling this summer.

With mosquito season in full swing, Fraser Health reminds residents to fight the bite from mosquitoes at home and when traveling this summer.

West Nile Virus (WNV), a disease carried by birds and spread by mosquitoes, can infect people as well as other mammals. Most people that become infected do not have any symptoms. About 20 per cent will experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, rash, swollen glands and sensitivity to light. Approximately one in 150 infected people experience a serious, debilitating illness due to nervous system complications.

Locally acquired human cases of WNV were first identified in B.C. in the summer of 2009. Although it's difficult to predict activity for 2011, higher risk areas in the southern portion of B.C. have enhanced surveillance in place.

"It's important for residents to take extra precautions against mosquito bites when visiting an area known or suspected to have WNV, by dressing appropriately and using insect repellent," said Glen Embree, manager health protection programs for Fraser Health.

In 2010, one resident of the Central Okanagan contracted WNV and five dead birds from that area tested positive for the virus. No WNV activity was noted in the Fraser Health region in 2010, but this area remains at risk this year due to the climate and abundance of mosquitoes capable of transmitting the disease.

Southeast Washington state continues to be an area with significant WNV activity each year and with flood conditions in Manitoba extra care should be taken against mosquito bites when traveling to both of these areas.

The Four D's to reduce your risk of West Nile Virus infection:

Drain: Keep your property free of standing and stagnant water that can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This includes getting rid of water in flower pots, garbage can lids, old tires and other items that collect rain water, changing water in bird baths twice a week, unclogging gutters and emptying wading pools when not in use.

Dusk and dawn: Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Cover up and use insect repellent if you are outside.

Dress appropriately: Wear loose fitting long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes, socks and a hat when outdoors. Light coloured clothing is best.

Defend: Use insect repellent on exposed skin or on top of clothing. Repellent containing DEET is most effective - up to 30 per cent DEET for adults and 10 per cent for children (not recommended for infants). Remember, the concentration of DEET only affects the duration of its effectiveness, not the quality of its effectiveness. Be sure to reapply when in contact with mosquitoes for longer periods of time.

Fraser Health, in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control, has an extensive surveillance program to act as an early detection and public notification system for WNV. This includes public education, setting up mosquito traps throughout the region (Delta to Hope), and risk reduction initiatives to identify and eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.

As crows are particularly susceptible and often die as a result of illness, Fraser Health also collects dead crows for testing. This is one of the most reliable methods of early detection. Disease-positive crows often precede the illness in humans by two to six weeks, allowing health officials to implement pest management plans to minimize human health risk.

"Residents play a big role in West Nile surveillance," said Embree "Without public participation, early detection of WNV is difficult. We urge Fraser residents to report dead crows to the Fraser Health's West Nile Virus Toll-Free Reporting Line, 1-888-968-5463." You can also call this line for concerns about a mosquito breeding habitat on private land in the Fraser Health region.