Summer is here — and so is peak mosquito season, along with irritating bites and the threat of disease.
South Carolina is home to at least 61 different species of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes in our state might carry West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis or other viruses or parasites. The newest potential threat is the Zika virus, a typically mild virus for the general population, but one that can cause birth defects in infants when contracted by pregnant women.
As of July 15, South Carolina has had 17 travel-associated cases of Zika virus; 16 were in travelers infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home. One case involved a S.C. resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired the Zika infection while traveling.
Although mosquitoes in South Carolina do not carry the Zika virus at this time, there is a chance that some species could one day transmit the virus in our local communities.
We must be prepared. DHEC, local governments and other partners came together this spring at the South Carolina Zika Forum to discuss and plan for the key roles we play in preventing and responding to Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases. But we need your help, too. Citizens are the first line of defense.
You can help protect our state against the Zika virus. Or West Nile. Or any other mosquito-borne illnesses. And you don’t have to be an expert. You don’t even have to leave your own yard. Simply take responsibility for ridding your property and home of mosquito-breeding grounds and protecting your family against bites.
Two of the main types of mosquitoes known to transmit the Zika virus are present in South Carolina and are commonly found near homes and buildings. They can breed in containers holding water. Even something as small as a bottle cap. Frequently emptying or removing containers that hold standing or stagnant water from your property is one of the most effective ways to reduce the presence of mosquitoes and prevent the spread of disease. DHEC is urging residents to leave no stone unturned as they seek to silence the buzz and eliminate mosquito-breeding spots. Among other things:
Clear out weeds, leaves, dirt and other debris from pipes.
Repair leaky pipes and outdoor faucets.
Clean out rain gutters and downspouts regularly.
Empty and turn over or put away containers that can hold water, such as: cans, jars, drums, bottles, flower pots, children’s toys, old appliances, etc.
Make sure all permanent water containers, such as wells, septic tanks, water tanks and cesspools are tightly covered and insect-proof.
Change the water in bird baths and empty and clean out children’s wading pools at least once a week.
Drain old tires or recycle them.
Use biological agents such as mosquito dunks or torpedoes to treat containers without lids or that can’t be lifted and emptied.
In addition to eliminating breeding sites, protect yourself from mosquito bites.
When you go outside, apply an EPA-recommended mosquito repellent to your skin or wear protective clothing.
Wear light colors and avoid wearing scented products outdoors.
Be careful when applying insect repellents to children and babies:
Spray repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
Do not apply repellent to a child’s hands, mouth, cut or irritated skin.
Do not use Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus on children younger than 3 years old. Do not use repellents containing DEET on babies younger than 2 months old.
Keep car windows rolled up and garage doors closed at night.
Make sure all screens on windows and doors are intact and installed properly.
Currently, all S.C. Zika cases are travel-associated. Before traveling, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers Health website (cdc.gov/travel) to see if your destination has any travel health notices and to find tips on preventing Zika infection during and after trips. CDC recommends pregnant women avoid areas with active Zika virus transmission.
For its part, DHEC monitors for mosquito-borne diseases that can be spread to people and provides information to reduce mosquito populations and prevent bites. The agency also encourages local governments to protect citizens through local mosquito control programs and local ordinances, and by treating standing water in roadside ditches and other areas.
Ultimately, it will take the best efforts of the entire community to provide an appropriate response to the risk that Zika virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses present.
Rid your home and yard of trouble spots today. The sooner, the better.
Dr. Linda Bell is state epidemiologist at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control