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Editorial: Summer brings threat of mosquito-borne viruses

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Warmer temperatures and normal spring rains have brought on a seasonal nuisance — mosquitoes.

But there are added reasons to be diligent about depriving the biting pests of breeding opportunities. In late summer, the risk of West Nile virus increases, but there’s a new health risk this year.

A mosquito-borne virus that has quickly spread through the Caribbean has been confirmed in a Fort Wayne-area resident who recently traveled to that region, Indiana health officials reported last week.

The chikungunya virus detected in Allen County doesn’t often cause death, but symptoms — including high fever and joint pain — can be severe, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash, the agency said. Most patients feel better within a week, but joint pain can persist for months, it said.

People at risk for more severe symptoms include newborns, adults over age 65 and people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, the department said.

“We expected the epidemic in the Caribbean to cause some travel-related cases here in Indiana,” Jennifer Brown, a public health veterinarian at the health department, said in a news release. “We encourage all Hoosiers to take precautions against mosquito bites at home and while traveling.”

The health department said people who develop these symptoms after traveling to the Caribbean or other areas where chikungunya is found should immediately contact a health care provider.

Chikungunya can be transmitted from a sick person to a healthy person by the bite of an infected mosquito, and health officials urged Indiana residents to take precautions.

Here are some ways homeowners can reduce mosquito breeding areas:

  • Empty containers that could accumulate water. Discard them if they’re not needed.
  • Clean gutters so they flow freely and don’t have standing water, where it’s easy for the insects to breed unnoticed.
  • Empty water from old tires. If possible, take the tires to be recycled or disposed of properly.
  • Change water in birdbaths regularly.
  • Stock ornamental pools with small fish that eat mosquito larvae.
  • Wear insect repellents that contain DEET, picaradin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. For children, use a milder concentration of 10 percent DEET, and don’t use the product on children younger than 2.

The health risk from the chikungunya virus is not substantial, but its presence in Indiana should be reason enough for everyone to do what they can to reduce opportunities for mosquitoes to breed.

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