Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

Lou Boulmetis
Carroll County Master Gardener Program

The Tlingit Indians, the northernmost tribe of North American Indians, lived next to the sea for countless generations - until they had their lands stolen by Russian fur-traders. During their heyday, before they were exploited, the Tlingits were revered carvers and painters as well as weavers of baskets and blankets. Today, only about 250 descendants live at Craig on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska. And although there's very little left of their and culture, a few of their stories have survived - like this one.

How Mosquitoes Came To Exist:

Long ago there was a terrible giant that preyed upon the Tlingits. Otherwise peaceful people, the situation got to out of hand, the Tlingits declared war on this giant and devised a plan to slay "him" dead. Eventually the giant was waylaid, slain and broken apart. But as the giant died he threatened to return and have his revenge.

To make a long story short, an unexpected thing happened. Each tiny piece of the giant magically turned into a mosquito. And to this day, these mosquitoes continue to execute the giant's revenge. You shouldn't worry too much about the plight of the Tlingits, though, because now they have a modern-day defense. Ever hear of mosquito repellents?

West Nile Virus:

West Nile Virus is an imported-viral infection that was first detected around New York City in 1999. As far as researchers know, however, West Nile virus is "only transmitted" to humans by mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes that carry the virus, incidentally, become infected when they feed on "birds" that were previously infected. Then, after the virus has incubated in a mosquito's bloodstream for 10 days to 2 weeks, infected mosquitoes spread the virus to humans and animals when they bite.

Most incidents of infection take place during late summer and early fall, and the first symptoms develop 3 to 15 days following the bite from an infected mosquito. Generally speaking, most infections are mild and include the following symptoms: headache, high fever, stiffness of the neck, stupor and disorientation.

But in certain cases - especially when middle-aged and elderly-folks have been infected with West Nile - more serious symptoms "may occur" that include: coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis and even death. No vaccine exists to immunize folks against West Nile Virus, either. What's more, theirs no cure if you become infected - only the treatment of your symptoms.

What To Do:

Pennsylvania has posted recommendations regarding how the risk of being infected with West Nile can be lessened and has placed these recommendations on the following web site: In Maryland, more information can be found on line at:

For even more information, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has posted information on its web site regarding what CDC presently knows about the West Nile virus and how to reduce the threat of infection. Their address is:

What follows are highlights from these web sites, as well as a few of my own thoughts.

  • If you think you might have West Nile virus, see your doctor right away.

  • Reduce the amount of standing-water around your property by bringing indoors water-holding containers that aren't being used. Examples include: small ponds, flower pots, bird baths and children's wading pools. Roof gutters, too, should be cleaned and otherwise made free of standing-water.

  • Study your landscape for wet spots and puddles. Then, resolve to solve these problems through landscaping.

  • Keep screen doors and windows in good repair.

  • Turn off porch lights.

  • Wear long-sleeved garments when outdoors - especially during dusk, dawn and evenings.

  • If West Nile has been discovered in your area, stay indoors - if possible - during dusk, dawn and early evening.

  • Spray mosquito repellents on yourself and "clothing", but don't forget to read and follow all product instructions and cautions.

Because birds are especially susceptible to West Nile, dead birds help health officials pinpoint areas where humans are at risk of contracting the virus. So in Pennsylvania, if you find any dead bird call: 1-877-PA-HEALTH for further instructions. In Maryland call: 1-888-584-3110 for instructions on reporting and handling any dead bird.

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