By Alice C. Newgen, Reporter
It’s not uncommon in warm weather to have to deal with pests like flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. Most people get annoyed with the insects but rarely have to worry about any serious health threats from their bite. There are exceptions to the rule and it is important to be protected from the possibility of contracting a viral infection like La Crosse Encephalitis, says Ray King, Director of Environmental Health North Georgia Division.
The City of Chatsworth, Mayor Tyson Haynes, Fort Mountain State Park, and Ga. Dept. of Public Health devised a plan to help control the mosquito population, according to Haynes and King. The City of Chatsworth was very helpful, King says, with spraying to lessen the risk of a growing mosquito problem. Posters were also displayed at Fort Mountain encouraging people to use repellents and avoid mosquitoes as much as possible last year. The state park filled in some holes where it is believed to be where the mosquitoes were at. King says he has been putting out traps all over the park to collect adult mosquitoes and see how many different kinds there are in the area. According to an email King sent to Mayor Tyson Haynes, four out of a total of 16 captured mosquitoes, or 25 percent, were Aedes Triseriatus, the species known to transmit the La Crosse virus (LACV) that can cause encephalitis.
“Like many of the mosquito-borne viral diseases like this, it (La Crosse) can leave temporary or permanent disabilities,” he said. “A certain percentage of people will suffer this. There is no real treatment. It’s a viral disease so there is no antibiotic for it. They may need rehabilitation but there is no drug involved that can make them well in all cases. The vast majority of people that get it get over it. It is just a small percentage of people that have disabilities.”
King wants the public to know there is no need for alarm. People can go outdoors and participate in activities in recreational areas but insists on the use of mosquito repellent. He recommends wearing a repellent that contains at least 20 to 40 percent of DEET. Apply as often as necessary and he says most children over six months should be able to have DEET on them. Wearing long sleeves and appropriate clothing is another way to help avoid the possibility of getting bit by a mosquito. Avoid outdoor activities around dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are more likely to bite.
“We have had no new cases this year, but that is no guarantee because the mosquito in question is still out there. It is a forested area and we can’t treat a whole forest. It is part of nature and we can’t control all of nature. We are not going to get rid of all mosquitoes. We’re not going to get rid of the virus. It is going to be there in nature no matter what we do.”
Aedes triseriatus, the eastern treehole mosquito, which transmits the La Crosse virus, normally lays its eggs in tree holes where water has accumulated but eggs can also be found in old tires and other water holding containers. The virus, which can cause brain swelling and paralysis, can survive in the eggs during winter developing into infected mosquitoes in the springtime.
The disease is fairly new to Georgia. The virus has been spreading from the Midwest states and down to the Appalachians and southward. In the wild, the virus circulates between the mosquito populations and rodents, mainly chipmunks and squirrels. When humans get the virus they are a dead end for the disease and they can’t spread it, according to King.
La Crosse symptoms generally start showing signs three to seven days after becoming infected by the mosquito.
According to King, there is no direct treatment for viral encephalitis, just supported care. It is rarely fatal but it does happen from time to time. Fatality rates run about one or two percent.
“Last year there were two cases of Lacrosse Encephalitis that were probably linked to the state park, Fort Mountain. They were pretty typical patients. Most of the severe cases that happen with the LaCrosse virus are in people under the age of sixteen and both of these were. One was local and one was from another state,” said King.
The two young children needed hospitalization since they had a severe form of the disease but the last King heard on their conditions they are doing fine, he says.
King said, “It is estimated that about 300,000 or more people in the U.S. get the La Crosse virus but they don’t know it. It’s just a small percentage of people that get a severe form of the disease. Encephalitis means brain swelling.”
There are 60 different species of mosquitoes in the state of Georgia. There are approximately 40 in the north Georgia area. King says there is a possibility that the common black and white Asian Tiger Mosquito could also transmit LACV. They were imported to the U.S. in used tires during the late 1980s.