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West Nile Virus Case Reported In Hillsborough. Here's How To Protect Yourself

National Mosquito Control Awareness Week is here, and the Pinellas County Mosquito Control center wants people to be aware of the dangers the bugs can pose to their health.
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Hillsborough has seen an increase in the number of cases related to mosquito-borne illnesses. Here’s what you need to know, and what precautions you can take.

The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has issued an advisory for mosquito-borne illnesses following the confirmation of a human case of West Nile virus.

Additionally, cases of mosquito-borne diseases in Hillsborough have been increasing, according to health officials, given that it is mosquito season in Florida.

“Right now, there’s not a lot of cases. Any time we have a human case of West Nile virus, that does prompt a mosquito-borne illness advisory,” says Kevin Walter, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Department of Health.

Walter said the next step is to test the bird population for different mosquito-borne illnesses, which is how increases in cases are determined.

“Here in Hillsborough County, it hasn’t been really that unusual for us, only sporadic cases," he said. "But now that we have this individual who has tested positive for the West Nile virus, we know that anytime there is a human case, there are mosquitoes that are carrying the virus.”

West Nile is the country's leading cause of mosquito-borne disease. It has no correlation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it is still important to exercise caution and limit exposure to mosquitoes. They are also carriers of other illnesses in the same family as the West Nile, including Yellow Fever and Zika.

“It’s pretty complex ecology with the West Nile," said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, with the University of South Florida's Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research. "The primary host are birds, and the virus is spread through mosquitoes that breed in nutrient-rich water.

"You have a concentration of high levels of mosquitoes and the birds that concentrate in these pockets of swampy area that causes the virus to really amplify,”

Unnasch stresses that the best way for humans to protect themselves from the virus is to remain indoors, and to wear protective clothing and insect repellent.

“A person is a dead-end host for the virus. It can’t be transmitted onward,” Unnasch said.

Here’s how you can keep safe from the virus and other related illnesses:

The Hillsborough Department of Health reminds residents to Drain and Cover

Drain refers to:

  • Draining water from containers that hold rain or sprinkler water
  • Discarding old appliances
  • Cleaning out pet water
  • Protecting vehicles from rain
  • Maintaining swimming pools

All of these measures will prevent mosquitoes from gathering in these locations.

Cover refers to:

  • Wearing clothing that protects you from mosquito bites, such as long sleeves, socks, and close-toed shoes
  • Using mosquito repellent, especially those with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-methane-diol, 2-undecanone, and IR3535. Be sure to read the labels for usage. For more information on repellent, visit the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Cover doors and windows with screens
  • Repair any broken screening

For more information on mosquito-borne illnesses and West Nile virus, visit the Florida Department of Health website.

Ayesha Faisal is the WUSF Social Media Intern for the fall of 2020.
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