May generally brings higher temperatures, more mosquitoes and more chances to contract West Nile virus, as well as other mosquito-borne diseases, caution experts with the LSU AgCenter.
West Nile virus is carried by birds and transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.
So far this year, more dead birds that were confirmed to have carried West Nile virus have been turned in to state health department offices than at the same time last year.
While that could simply be a sign that people are being more vigilant, it also is a reason for caution, according to experts.
LSU AgCenter specialist Dr. Mary Grodner said officials don’t know just how widespread the disease will be this year.
"The West Nile Virus is a little more unpredictable than other viruses," Grodner said.
The virus is reported to have already been found in birds in 23 Louisiana parishes, but no human cases have been reported so far this year. Birds that primarily carry the virus are blue jays and crows, but infected sparrows and cardinals also have been reported.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control shows of the 123 human cases in Louisiana in 2003, eight residents died from the disease.
And experts point out that preventing mosquito bites is the key to reducing your chances of contracting the virus.
"Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants when going out during peak mosquito activity times," Grodner said. "And wear repellent."
Peak mosquito activity times are from dusk to dawn, according to Grodner, who points out that people should use mosquito repellents that contain DEET, or diethyl-m-toluamide. Insect repellents containing DEET help prevent bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other biting insects, the LSU AgCenter specialist points out, adding that various forms of repellents and concentrations of the material are available.
Another tip on avoiding mosquito bites is to avoid wearing dark clothing, since dark colors attract mosquitoes.
Grodner also says homeowners should monitor their yards carefully and make sure there is no standing water.
"Keep yards free of debris such as tires, buckets, cans and other items that can hold water," she said, adding, "Saucers under flower pots outdoors are not necessary and, if water collects in them, mosquitoes will breed.
"Remember that mosquitoes do not need much water in which to lay their eggs."
Because of the threat of West Nile and other mosquito-borne diseases, LSU AgCenter experts recommend these precautions to cut down the mosquito population and prevent mosquito bites:
- Protect yourself by wearing a mosquito repellent each time you go outside.
- Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants, when possible, and avoid dark colors.
- Avoid outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are more active.
- Fight mosquitoes. Don’t allow water to stand, or treat standing water with approved insecticides to kill mosquito larvae.
- Repair window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
- Use an insecticide to spray areas of thick vegetation in your landscape.
- Remove debris from your yard.
- Mow grass regularly and keep shrubbery trimmed.
- Use pesticides safely, effectively. Read and carefully follow label directions on any insecticides or mosquito repellents you use.
- Always choose a pesticide that is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for your intended use.
The United States’ first reports of West Nile virus in 1998 were confined to 26 of the 4,000 or so counties in the country. Four years later, the virus was found in 1,947 counties – and had spread to 42 states and the District of Columbia. And it continued to exhibit an even wider spread across the country during the summer of 2003.