RALEIGH, N.C. — West Nile virus has been detected in 37 states, including North Carolina. So far, more than 140 people in six states have been infected. The search is on for everything from sprays to gadgets that will get rid of mosquitoes.
The state's Division of Environmental Health in Raleigh is the drop-off point for birds suspected to have West Nile virus. Dr. Barry Engber inspects the birds that will be tested for the virus.
"West Nile virus is a disease of birds and normal transmission is from bird to bird by mosquitoes," he said.
Mosquitoes also feed on people who can later become infected. Symptoms range from a rash and fever to swollen glands. In the most severe cases, some people develop encephalitis and can even die.
So far this summer, 14 birds have tested positive for West Nile virus in North Carolina. Nine birds were from one particular area of Mecklenburg County, two were from other parts of that county, one was from Surry County, and one was from Lincoln County.
Even though no deaths have been related to West Nile virus, experts are asking residents across the state to remain cautious.
"We now know the virus is active in the 28211 ZIP code area of Charlotte," said Dr. Leah Devlin, acting state health director. "Now, we need to expand surveillance to see where else the virus is active. We are asking residents across the state to step up their efforts to report dead or dying crows, blue jays, and hawks to their local health department or to the state so they can be tested."
The news of the virus sent consumers to stores for products to drive mosquitoes away. Some of the devices are expensive, with some costing as much as $495.
"The day we got in the shipment of the mosquito magnets, I found the price tag and snickered and thought 'we'll have these for years,'" Home Depot employee Larry Belk said.
However, Belk sold one in an hour and later sold out the store's stock, but do they actually work?
"One of the problems with them, 'Are you trapping the right kind of mosquitoes?'" Engber said.
The most commonly found mosquito in North Carolina is the Aisian tiger mosquito. It also may be playing a role in the transmission of West Nile virus.
"The Aisian tiger mosquito is a very difficult mosquito to trap. It's daytime active and it isn't attracted to these traps a whole lot," Engber said.
Another product, Mosquito Deleto, uses carbon dioxide to attract and trap mosquitoes, but it was recalled for starting fires. The manufacturer, Coleman, made another model and put that out on the market.
Residents can reduce mosquito populations around their homes and workplaces by throwing away, emptying or recycling anything that can hold water, such as tires, flower pots and bottles. Rain gutters should be kept clean and in good repair.
Leaky outdoor faucets should be repaired and the water in bird baths and pet bowls should be emptied at least twice a week. Rain barrels should have tight-fitting screens to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them.