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Preventing the West Nile Virus
There has been so much talk lately about the West Nile virus, and it seems to be spreading, particularly in my state of California where the weather is warm much of the year. I’m 62 and really sensitive to insect bites, so are there any precautions I can take to reduce my risk of contracting the disease?
WORRIED IN WEST LAKE VILLAGE
Persons over age 50 should be especially concerned about West Nile virus because they are among the most potentially at-risk population and are more likely to develop serious symptoms if they become infected. Obviously the healthier and more physically fit you are, the better able you are to combat West Nile or any other virus -- that’s a “no-brainer.” But what can you do to prevent it in the first place?
The West Nile virus is a bird virus that is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito that has fed on an infected bird. Not everyone who becomes infected with West Nile virus will develop serious illness (in fact, four out of five people who are infected will not show any symptoms at all), but symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis. In other words, you don’t want to get it! Symptoms sometimes can last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Even otherwise healthy people can be sick for weeks with the West Nile virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), California has the dubious distinction of being the “leader” among West Nile cases affecting humans. Louisiana holds second place. In addition to people and birds, horses also contract the disease. During a recent period, all but 9 states reported cases of West Nile virus in one form or another.
What to do? The CDC advises that West Nile virus activity peaks in August and September so make sure you're protected whenever you go outdoors and remember to:
Use mosquito repellent. (Choose an EPA-registered insect repellent such as those with DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.)
Make yourself less vulnerable by not going outdoors during “peak” hours if at all possible. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many species of mosquitoes.
Wear long sleeves, long pants, and long socks when outdoors if weather permits.
Eliminate mosquito breeding sites. Check for standing water around your house or apartment (such as bird baths, flower pots, drainage ditches, etc.).
Install or repair screens. Even the smallest tear can create an opportunity for the tiny mosquito.
Support community-based mosquito control programs.
If you are sensitive to commercial insect repellents or hesitant to use them on your skin, my personal recommendation is to try Neem oil. Haven’t heard of it? I’m not surprised. Neem oil is extracted from the seed of the Neem tree, an ancient tree indigenous to India, and has been used for thousands of years as an insect repellent. It is entirely natural and amazingly effective in repelling insects for both humans and animals (yes, you can even bathe Fido in it). I often work outside on my small acreage in California where I am regularly exposed to mosquitoes, gnats, and other biting insects. Recently I applied some Neem lotion before cutting brush on the “back forty.” It was a hot day, and within minutes I noticed a cloud of gnats heading toward me. “Uh, oh,” I thought. But to my surprise, the gnats turned around immediately upon sensing the Neem and headed in the opposite direction. I continued working for several hours without a single bite. This made me a believer.
In fact, concentrated Neem extract mixed with a gallon of water and a little bit of dishwashing detergent and then sprayed on your plants will even keep insect pests from dining on your favorite flowers. Apparently they don’t like the taste. While it does not immediately kill them like many pesticides (which can be harmful to you, too), it disrupts their reproductive cycle to reduce the long-term insect population. Surprisingly, it has no adverse effect on beneficial insects such as earthworms, honey bees, lady bugs, etc. -- only on the “bad” insects.
Neem America is, perhaps, the foremost source of quality Neem products in the U.S. Their website (http://www.neemamerica.org/) includes information about the benefits of Neem oil with supportive documentation from decades of research and clinical trials. The Parks and Recreation Department of the City of San Diego is now using Neem oil from Neem America as part of its insect control strategy. For further information about using Neem oil as an effective insect repellent, call 858-231-3142. Or contact Carl Ling of California Soil Solutions at 800-507- 2526 for advice on how to use it on your plants. This “time-tested” natural insect deterrent might afford you the extra protection you need against West Nile virus.
Jim Evans is a 38-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and a nationally recognized consultant on fitness for seniors. He is host of the popular radio talk show “Forever Young” on San Diego’s KCBQ 1170 AM (KCBQ.com) and chairman of the advisory council for the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of San Diego.
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