Date: September 23, 2012
Recent reports of West Nile Virus have raised concerns about mosquitoes. While West Nile Virus can be deadly, it is not nearly as common in North Carolina as in many other states. Fortunately, there are ways to manage the mosquito population in our backyards and playgrounds and prevent the spread of disease, while still letting our kids get outside to play.
West Nile Virus is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected bird (the bird acts as a "host" for the virus), and then that mosquito may bite a person who can, in turn, become infected themselves. Only about 1 percent of infected humans become severely ill, and many may not ever know they are infected. Among those who do become ill, the mortality rate is between 3 percent and 15 percent, with the most vulnerable group of people being adults over 50 years of age. Though West Nile Virus may not be as common in North Carolina, diseases like Eastern Equine Encephalitis and LaCrosse Encephalitis can also be transmitted by local mosquitoes, so addressing mosquito control is important.
The mosquito species that carry disease tend to breed in standing water. The first response should be to focus on those breeding pools, rather than worrying about what to spray in your yard or playground. Regular rainfall means lots of standing water, so look for and empty your sources of standing water regularly:
- Bird baths (just flush out the old water with a hose).
- Old cans and tires – tip and toss.
- Outdoor flower pots and watering cans – empty the water from the dishes/trays underneath them. The plants will appreciate it, too!
- Clean out your gutters – the water and decaying matter both attract mosquitoes.
- Rain barrels – make sure they're screened to keep out mosquitoes.
- Kids pools – when the kids aren't using them, the mosquitoes are.
- Playground toys like shovels, buckets and trucks – teachers and children should do a daily sweep of the playground to empty any standing water as soon as they come outside in the morning. This is an easy chore to turn into a game!
Emphasizing personal protection in your child care center and household is also key. Discourage outdoor play thirty minutes before and after dawn and dusk, as this is when mosquitoes are most active. If you can't cover up with long-sleeve shirts and pants, use repellents on exposed skin when outside. Some important repellent tips:
- Do not put repellent on skin that will be covered by clothing.
- When using repellents on children, use repellent wipes, or apply to your own hands and then rub onto children's exposed skin (but not on their hands because kids handle food and also tend to stick their hands in their eyes and/or mouth). Wash your hands right away. Do not allow children to apply their own repellent, and do not use sprays on children as they are easy to inhale.
Choose repellents for children carefully. See Toxic Free NC's recent article: http://www.toxicfreenc.org/informed/summer06/fightbite.html. Before applying any repellent to children, read the label carefully to be sure that the concentration is appropriate for them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends concentrations of DEET no higher than 30%. Toxic Free NC suggests avoiding DEET entirely with children, opting instead for natural repellents that contain lemon balm and citronella oil.
Mosquito management is a community effort – so get your teachers and parents and even neighbors on board with a pro-active strategy to avoid mosquito bites. With these simple steps in mind, we can greatly decrease the risks of mosquitoes to our communities, and most importantly, to our little ones!
This article was adapted with permission by Kate Watkins for Toxic Free NC
Toxic Free NC: www.toxicfreenc.org
NCSU Department of Entomology: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/entomology/extension