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Editorial: Reduce West Nile risk with simple precautions

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Indiana’s first human case of West Nile virus was reported recently in Porter County.

The Indiana State Department of Health said mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus in 18 counties, including nearby Marion and Morgan counties. While samples from Johnson County haven’t confirmed the presence of the virus here, health authorities believe that almost certainly if it’s not here now it will be found this season.

State Health Commissioner William VanNess said, “This is the time of the year when Hoosiers are at a risk of getting West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne viruses. You can prevent these diseases by taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

The risk of West Nile fever, the illness caused by the virus, is real. While in most people it produces little more than flu-like symptoms, in a few people it can lead to meningitis, encephalitis or even death. Last year, at least one Hoosier died of the virus.

Symptoms can include high fever, severe headache, stiffness in the neck, sore joints, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting and confusion.

The public has a role to play in the battle against mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers some easy-to-follow guidelines.

Use mosquito repellent with DEET whenever going outside. Reapply it after swimming, perspiring heavily or being bitten. Also spray clothing, as mosquitoes can bite through cloth.

Install or repair window screens. This will help keep mosquitoes from getting into a house.

Eliminate mosquito-breeding sites. Once or twice a week, empty water from flower pots, pet dishes, birdbaths, buckets, barrels, swimming pool covers and any other containers that can hold water.

Remove discarded tires and other items that could collect water. And be sure to check for containers or trash in places that might be hard to see, such as under bushes or a porch or deck.

The public is the first and best defense against mosquitoes and ultimately West Nile. By checking their property for potential mosquito-breeding sites and then emptying standing water, people can significantly reduce their risk. Taking action at home can significantly reduce the size of the mosquito population.

Everyone needs to help out to reduce the opportunities for mosquitoes to breed and, in turn, reduce the risk of West Nile virus.

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