(ARA) - West Nile virus arrived on the east coast of the United States in 2000, drawing plenty of media attention. Since then, the virus has gradually migrated west to the Pacific coast, and human cases have been documented in nearly all of the 48 continental states.

While the disease is no longer grabbing the same volume of national headlines it did upon its first arrival and during the most severe outbreaks, it remains a threat worthy of serious consideration, thought and preventative action. In 2008, reported human cases and West Nile-related deaths were both down nationally to the lowest levels seen since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, certain areas saw an increase in overall West Nile activity. The state of Washington, for example, saw a re-emergence of documented human cases after reporting no human West Nile infections throughout all of 2007.

"The weather plays a big role in determining where mosquito populations are going to be the most severe, which makes knowing where West Nile virus will pose the most serious risks in the coming year unpredictable," says Allen James, president of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), a national organization representing the manufacturers, formulators and distributors of pesticide and fertilizer products. "Total human cases in the United States have been on the decline for the past few years, but almost 1,400 confirmed cases were reported in 2008, and that is a substantial number that we can work to reduce even further."

The numbers of documented human West Nile virus infections hit a peak in 2003, with almost 10,000 reported cases, and have gradually declined since as municipalities and communities across the country have adopted effective measures to manage troublesome mosquito populations. Still, since 2005, the CDC has reported over 12,000 people in the country diagnosed with West Nile virus infections, resulting in nearly 500 documented deaths.

"Unfortunately, West Nile virus is here to stay and it's something that Americans are going to have to be cognizant of every year moving forward," James says. "Especially within more susceptible populations like young children and the elderly with weaker immune systems, this disease represents a very real and potentially deadly threat. It's important to help minimize this risk by reducing mosquito populations where we can."

West Nile virus is a vector-borne disease transmitted to humans almost exclusively through the bites of carrying mosquitoes. The best way to prevent an outbreak of the disease, according to the CDC, is through the use of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to control both adult mosquitoes and their larvae before they can hatch and mature.

"There is no single magic bullet that works to effectively control mosquitoes," James says. "It takes an integrated approach where citizens and public officials work together to remove breeding grounds, monitor mosquito activity, use biological and chemical controls, and educate their friends and neighbors about proper prevention measures."

Support for community mosquito reduction and education programs, combined with the use of proven larvicide and adulticide products, is the most effective action communities can take to prevent West Nile virus from becoming a major public health risk. Larvicides are approved pesticide products applied to mosquito breeding grounds to eliminate developing mosquito larvae before they have the chance to become adults. Similarly, adulticides are another type of pesticide product, most often applied as ultra-low volume (ULV) mist or fog that kills adult mosquitoes on contact. These products represent a prudent and cost-effective way to manage large, problematic mosquito populations and have been deemed by the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be the harmless to people, children, pets and the environment when applied correctly by trained personnel.

Around home, individuals and families can follow a few simple steps to help reduce the risk of mosquito bites and eliminate potential breeding grounds on their own property. The easiest and most important preventative action to take is to apply an approved insect repellant to all exposed skin when going outdoors for any period of time. Remember that mosquitoes are most active in the morning and evening, so adults and children should all take additional care to reduce the amount of exposed skin susceptible to a mosquito bite when outside, especially at these times.

Also, take the time to eliminate all areas of standing water around the home. Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the surface of calm, stagnant water, and reducing the prevalence of these potential breeding grounds can greatly impact the number of mosquitoes immediately around homes and properties. Drain low-lying areas, clean out clogged gutters, drain birdbaths and turn over any miscellaneous containers like unused buckets and flower pots that may have the potential to hold rainwater. These simple actions, in addition to the support of other local mosquito-control efforts, can help to significantly reduce the risk of West Nile and other mosquito-borne illnesses in many areas.

While it may not be a fixture on the front page every day anymore, West Nile virus still poses a serious risk that warrants considerable attention from local groups across the nation. It is not a problem that is ever going to disappear completely, but through the use of an IPM approach, education programs and proper mosquito-control products, the threats posed by this potentially deadly disease can be substantially reduced.

Courtesy of ARAcontent