Things that sting every summer
Updated 12:10 pm, Friday, June 27, 2014
Why it's in the news: Though West Nile is the prevailing mosquito-borne health scourge in Fairfield County, concerns have recently been raised about a handful of other illnesses caused by mosquitoes. Last year, Connecticut had its first confirmed human case of eastern equine encephalitis in a resident of eastern Connecticut who eventually died from the illness. There also has been an increasing amount of chatter this year about two other mosquito-borne illnesses, dengue fever and chikungunya virus. Both of those illnesses are typically associated with the tropics, but have been making an appearance on these shores.
Outbreaks of chikungunya, which causes high fever, joint and muscle pain, were for years limited to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. But in late 2013, the disease began spreading in the Caribbean from infected mosquitoes.
"It's raging down there, and it's only going to get worse," said Dr. Theodore Andreadis, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, which runs the state's mosquito trapping and testing program.
More InformationThe buzz on mosquito protection
Here are some tips on keeping your home a mosquito-free zone:
Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left out of doors, so they don't accumulate water. Standing water attracts mosquitoes.
Empty standing water from used or discarded tires (including tire swing) that may have accumulated on your property.
Clean clogged roof gutters on an annual basis, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains.
Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use.
Turn over wheelbarrows and do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths.
Change water in birdbaths and wading pools on a weekly basis.
Source: Connecticut Department of Public Health
There have been chikungunya cases in the United States, but all were acquired elsewhere. In Connecticut, there have been at least four cases of chikungunya virus this year, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The mosquitoes that cause chikungunya are also linked to dengue fever, a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics. Between 2011 and 2013, 41 cases of dengue were reported in Connecticut, all acquired by people who traveled to other countries. There have been no reports in the state of locally-acquired dengue or chikungunya, though there was a locally-acquired case of dengue reported in Suffolk County, N.Y., last year.
So, should you worry?: About West Nile Virus? Definitely. Between 2002 and 2013, there was a total of 114 West Nile-associated illnesses reported to the state health department. Last year, there were four human cases of the illness, in residents of Stamford, Bridgeport and Stratford, but no one died. Andreadis said to expect at least some West Nile activity this year as well. "We should start finding West Nile-positive mosquitoes some time in July," he said. "But we don't know yet what kind of activity we will see."
He's also not sure how heavy eastern equine encephalitis will be this year. Though circulation of the virus was significant last year, it mostly stuck to eastern Connecticut towns, including Plainfield and Voluntown.
As for the other illnesses, "I don't think you should raise unnecessary alarm," said Dr. Zane Saul, chief of the infectious disease department at Bridgeport Hospital. He pointed out that both dengue and chikungunya are still relatively rare, and Andreadis agreed.
He said, though some of the mosquitoes associated with chikungunya and dengue have been spotted in the state, the recent harsh winter killed them off. But Andreadis said those who travel frequently should at least be aware of these illnesses. And there's always the possibility that these mosquito-borne scourges will become more common in the U.S.
"There's very, very strong likelihood and that chikungunya is going to get introduced (as a locally contracted disease) in the southern states," Andreadis said.
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