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Time Again for West Nile Virus

Too Soon to Know How Deadly Virus Will Be, Experts Say

Katrina Worries

Fears that major West Nile outbreaks would occur in Louisiana and Mississippi late last summer following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina were not borne out.

Petersen says it appears that the hurricane had little direct impact on West Nile transmissions in the area last year. Torrential rains and flooding may have even reduced transmissions by diluting the stagnant waters that mosquitoes favor for breeding, he adds.

The mosquito that most often carries the West Nile virusWest Nile virus typically breeds in small, stagnant, mucky pools of water that are nutrient rich.

That is why the threat to the most severely stricken part of the Gulf may prove to be bigger this year than last.

Outbreaks of West Nile tend to occur when it is hot and dry, rather than when it is very wet, Petersen says.

"We don't yet know if environmental conditions will favor an outbreak [in the Gulf]," he says. "But if there is West Nile activity in areas where people are still struggling to recover we might see bigger outbreaks."

Specifically, stagnant water that has collected around debris, which may have been sitting for almost a year coupled with the fact that more people may be outside fixing damaged homes could create the perfect ecological conditions for an outbreak.

Keep Mosquitoes From Biting

Since there is no way to predict when and where outbreaks will occur, the best protection against West Nile virus is keeping mosquitoes from biting, Petersen says.

Any one of three different types of insect repellants can do the job, he says. They are:

  • DEET. Most commercially available bug sprays contain DEET, which has been used for half a century and is the best studied repellent on the market. "DEET has a remarkable safety profile and side effects are extremely rare when it is properly used according to the label directions," Petersen says.
  • Lemon Eucalyptus Oil. Petersen says this is an effective alternative for people who want a more natural product.
  • Picaridin. Found in several repellents, including Cutter Advanced, picaridin-based products are not oily like products with DEET and they do not smell. But picaridin products are not sold in concentrations as high as some DEET products, so they should be applied more often.

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