The Yakima Health District is currently investigating six reported illnesses of mosquito-borne infection thought to be West Nile virus, St. Louis Encephalitis or Western Equine Encephalitis.
The individuals range in age from 6 to over 80 years of age and are from both the upper and lower valleys of Yakima County. All six individuals were hospitalized at some point, though three have since been released. Laboratory results are pending.
"We are following the clinical progress of the affected individuals closely," stated Dr. Devika Singh, the Deputy Health Officer for the Yakima Health District.
"We anticipate more illnesses in the upcoming weeks, but hope that with effective public health outreach we can prevent cases by encouraging necessary precautions among our residents," Singh added.
In 2008, two locally-acquired human cases of West Nile virus were confirmed in Yakima County, one male and one female who tested positive late in the mosquito season. However, this is the fifth year running that West Nile virus has been detected in Yakima County horses, birds, and/or mosquitoes. Historically, other mosquito-borne illnesses such as St. Louis Encephalitis and Western Equine Encephalitis have also been identified in the county.
Although summer is coming to a close, the mosquito season will remain in full swing for the next couple of months, said Laura Charters, Environmental Health Specialist with the Yakima Health District. She said to avoid additional illnesses during this time, residents of Yakima County must take steps to protect themselves from mosquitoes.
The steps individuals can take to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses include:
...eliminating standing water that mosquitoes can breed in. Anything that can hold water can become a mosquito breeding ground in less than a week. Health officials recommend changing water in pet bowls, animal troughs and bird baths at least once weekly, fixing leaky faucets that can create puddles and emptying saucers for potted plants regularly.
...avoid being bitten by mosquitoes altogether. Screen windows and doors that remain open for ventilation. When possible, avoid being outside at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. People should also cover their skin by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and shoes. Mosquito repellants containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 are safe and effective against mosquitoes when used according to label instructions.
Symptoms of mosquito-borne illnesses can include headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis or even death. Anyone experiencing any of the above symptoms should consult their medical provider immediately.
Mosquito activity tends to cease when the first overnight frost occurs in the fall (usually in late October or early November).