Cases of West Nile Virus have increased dramatically this year, more than at any time since the first reported case in the ’90s. Currently four times the number of human cases have been reported as compared to this time last year. The increase in cases has been attributed to mild winter conditions, coupled with an especially warm summer, and a changes in misquote feeding behavior1. Pinpointing the exact reasons nevertheless will most likely remain elusive. The most significant question is how do I protect myself and my pets from West Nile Virus?
The most important way to prevent West Nile is mosquito control. Obviously pesticide use is an effective and reliable way to control mosquito populations. Always apply any pesticide in a responsible manner in accordance with labeled directions. In order to use less pesticides, more “natural” control efforts are available. Fish such as Gambusia species will voraciously consume mosquito larva. Care must be used to make sure that they are not added to a water system that communicates with natural water ways, in areas where they are not native.
Other biological controls include Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis and Bacillus sphaericus. These bacteria paralyze the digestive system of mosquitoes, and the infected insect stops feeding within hours2.
As standing water provides excellent breeding areas for mosquitoes additional efforts should be made to drain areas such as mud puddles, and pick up debris where water can collect. Intact screen doors will decrease entrance to your home and access to you and your inside pets.
Since mosquitoes have to bite to transmit West Nile virus application of on pet mosquito repellents will significantly decrease exposure to the virus. There are very safe and effective insecticides available for application on humans, horses, and dogs. Talk with your veterinarian as to which is best for your pets. Do not use human products on animals and only use animal formulations on the species specially labeled for that product. Be aware that using insecticides in an off label manner can cause life threatening reactions.
Horses are very susceptible to West Nile virus and if infected may be permanently disabled or die. Make sure your horse is vaccinated with one of the safe and effective West Nile vaccines. West Nile vaccination requires an initial two series booster approximately two to four weeks apart. We suggest a yearly booster in the spring just before the onset of mosquito season. No vaccine can be relied upon to be 100% efficacious but immunization is one very effective tool in your arsenal to prevent equine case of West Nile virus. You can also keep fans blowing in horse barns to make it more difficult for misquotes to land and bite.
Do all that you can to prevent exposure for yourselves and your pets to the West Nile Virus. Since there is no magic bullet, you will need to employ multiple tools to safeguard yourselves and your pets. Consult your veterinarian, as West Nile virus is only one of the diseases spread by mosquitoes to animals, your veterinarian will already be prepared to make suggestions specific to your individual circumstances and area.
1. A New Model for Predicting Outbreaks of West Nile Virus;b y Liza Gross PLoS Biology April 2006; Volume 4, Issue 44.
2. BACILLUS THURINGIENSIS; by W.S. Cranshaw Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.