For the second straight summer, West Nile virus has been discovered in Alexandria. This year the actual disease-carrying mosquitoes were caught in a trap located near Ivy Hill Cemetery on King Street.
A variety of mosquitoes know as Culex restuans, a species that primarily feeds on birds but also bites humans, tested positive last week, according to Dr. Charles Konigsberg Jr., Alexandria health director.
"People need to pay special attention to eliminating mosquito breeding areas and protecting themselves from mosquito bites while outside this summer," Konigsberg warned.
"The wet spring weather has greatly increased the mosquito population compared to last year," said Joseph W. Fiander, senior environmental health specialist with the City Health Department.
Last year the city collected more than 21 birds that had been infected. "However, this is the first time we have trapped West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes in Alexandria," said Robert Custard, environmental health manager for the department.
"We are expecting an increase in West Nile virus in birds and mosquitoes this year. That will increase the risk of human infection," Custard said.
IN 2002, there were 29 human cases of the virus and two confirmed deaths in Virginia. In addition, 933 birds, 45 horses and 180 mosquito pools tested positive for West Nile virus throughout the commonwealth.
First detected in Virginia in 2000, its presence has increased each year. The greatest concern to the Health Department, as reported last year, is that they think certain species of mosquito can "over-winter" and, thereby, gain strength the next season. As of last week, no birds have tested positive in Alexandria.
Most people bitten by an infected mosquito do not get sick, according to the department. Those who do usually suffer a mild flu-like illness, health authorities explained.
People over 50 are at greatest risk of serious illness, such as encephalitis, inflammation of the brain; or meningitis, inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord; according to Barbara Gordon, City public information officer.
IN ORDER TO reduce exposure, the Health Department suggests the following:
* Wear long, loose, light-colored clothing;
* If possible, stay indoors when mosquitoes are biting;
* Check all window and door screens to ensure mosquitoes do not enter the house; and
* Use insect-repellent products with no more than 35 percent DEET for adults and 10 percent for children. Apply repellent to exposed skin and clothing.
To control mosquito breeding:
* Eliminate standing water by turning over or removing containers where water collects;
* Eliminate standing water on tarps or flat roofs; and
* Clean out birdbaths and wading pools at least once a week.
"It only takes one week for a larva to go from an egg to an adult mosquito," Fiander explained. "The most numerous mosquito in the City is what we call ‘the container mosquito.’ One dish under a flower pot can breed 500."