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West Nile virus season prompts 'skeeter' alert

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Yakima and Benton County Mosquito Control vehicles are out patrolling in the Lower Valley, seeking potential breeding sites for the pest. Pictured here is an official from the Benton County Mosquito Control District.

Mosquito season is in full swing throughout the state, and health officials say it's important to take steps to help avoid mosquito bites to reduce the risk of West Nile virus infection.

Staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active is a good start.

"If your work puts you outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, it's important to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants, and using an effective mosquito repellent on exposed skin," said Maryanne Guichard, assistant secretary for the state Department of Health's environmental health division.

"Preventing mosquito bites is your best defense against getting West Nile virus. Always read the labels on repellents and follow the instructions carefully, especially when you use them on children."

Taking away mosquito larvae habitat by removing items that can hold standing water such as cans, buckets, wheelbarrows or toys will also discourage breeding mosquitoes.

Officials note that water in wading pools, birdbaths, fountains and animal troughs should be changed twice a week.

It's also suggested that residents fix leaky faucets or sprinklers; repair or replace window and door screens that are damaged to limit the number of mosquitoes that get inside the home.

West Nile virus is unpredictable and there's no way to know how much activity will be seen in a season in our state, health officials caution.

They note that no positive results have been found in Washington yet this summer. By this time last year, mosquito samples in Grant County had already tested positive for West Nile virus.

For some people, West Nile virus infection can be very serious, and even fatal.

Some people may develop meningitis or encephalitis; some neurological effects may be permanent.

Most people bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus won't become ill, yet some may have mild symptoms, including headache and fever that go away without treatment.

People over 50 and those with weak immune systems are at higher risk for serious illness.

Officials encourage the reporting of dead birds from May through October at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/ts/Zoo/WNV/reportdeadbird.html.Crows, ravens, jays, magpies and hawks are particularly important to report because they often die from West Nile virus.

Horses are also susceptible to West Nile virus, but vaccines and an annual booster can protect them. The Washington State Department of Agriculture urges horse owners to contact their local veterinarian to learn about vaccinating horses.

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