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redeyechicago.com

Health department battling mosquitoes following West Nile death

Kent Erdahl

7:01 AM CDT, August 16, 2012

Indianapolis

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The Indiana State Department of Health announced Wednesday the state’s first death in 2012 due to the West Nile virus.

The death occurred in Vanderburgh County. Health officials have confirmed a total of seven cases in six counties this year. Confirmed cases have been found in Fulton, Hamilton, Jackson, Monroe, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

Because there is no vaccine for the virus, the best way to protect yourself is to use bug spray containing DEET. Those who spend time in wooded areas are not the only ones at risk for the mosquito-borne virus. Officials said a majority of people who became infected were working in the garden, mowing the lawn or just sitting outside on the porch.

Despite the ongoing drought, health officials say the dry conditions don’t appear to be having an impact on the spread of the virus.

"We're just searching for some standing water that might be breeding mosquitos," said Matt Sinsko, with Marion County Mosquito Control.

Standing water is barely visible anywhere across Marion County because of the drought, but Sinsko says even a half an inch of water buried in a culvert or a tire is more than enough to act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

"Even though we've had this drought, it still produces mosquitoes," Sinsko said.

Those mosquitoes are still producing West Nile cases. More than 60 counties have discovered the virus in mosquitoes and the State Department of Health has confirmed cases in six counties, including the latest death in Vanderburgh County.

Those numbers haven't shown any decline from last year.

"I think what that means is that the water that does exist isn't moving very well,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Gregory Larkin. “There isn't anything washing it through. All we can say is, with or without a drought, West Nile Virus remains a concern."

It's an even bigger concern nationwide. The Dallas mayor declared an emergency on Wednesday, in order to clear the way for aerial mosquito spraying. The West Nile virus has killed 14 people in Texas and 26 nationwide, and the CDC says it's one of the worst years since 2004.

Mosquito Control in Marion County has been trying to stay ahead of the problem with street fogging throughout the summer. They also spot treat those hard to reach areas of standing water.

Though Sinsko says the treatment has been effective, he says there's an even easer step to preventing the spread of the West Nile carrying mosquitoes in your own yard.

"Those mosquitoes don't travel very far, so if you're getting bit, chances are it's either on your property or your neighbor’s property," Sinsko said. "It's really important for people to take five minutes and walk around their house and find those sources of water because they can find it even though it may be a challenge for us."

The West Nile virus usually causes affected individuals to have a fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands or a rash.  Some individuals could develop a more severe form of the disease with encephalitis or meningitis.

The health department recommends taking the following steps to protect yourself from mosquitoes:

Click here for more information about West Nile and prevention.