Late summer and early fall have always been deadly seasons for mosquito-borne illness in America. More than 200 years ago—in 1793—there was an epidemic of mosquito-borne yellow fever. Witnesses described it as “a melancholy scene of devastation.” It led to a frantic evacuation of the nation’s capital (which, at the time, was in Philadelphia). And it killed 10 percent of Philadelphians between August and October.
Many years later, in the 1960s, local communities managed to get mosquito populations under control by seasonally spraying with the pesticide DDT.
I remember it well. In fact, it was a great source of entertainment on late summer evenings to ride our bicycles behind the clouds of DDT as municipal trucks came through the streets spraying.
However, in 1972 the federal government banned DDT due its classification as a potential human carcinogen. And it’s been demonized ever since. But I vividly recall reviewing an analysis on DDT while I was working as a scientist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the early 1980s. And according to the scientific data, a woman would have to be exposed to 10,000 times the amount of DDT present in pesticides in order to have an increased risk of breast cancer.
The fact is, there are pesticides in use today that are much more dangerous to human health than DDT. And much less effective against disease-carrying mosquitoes.
So perhaps if the government had paid attention to the real scientific evidence 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be facing more mosquito-borne epidemics right now.
Despite the drought in most parts of the country, it appears that many communities are having a hard time keeping mosquito populations under control. And as a result, we’re now in the midst of what could become the worst-ever mosquito-borne epidemic of West Nile Disease.
As of last week (August 29th), West Nile had been implicated in 66 deaths. The record was 264 deaths in 2003. But public health experts believe we may surpass that this year. Hundreds have already been hospitalized. And hundreds more who survive will be left with neurological damage. Which can cause problems like paralysis or chronic fatigue syndrome. Conditions that may last for months or an entire lifetime .
But while all the media attention has been focused on West Nile, that isn’t the only mosquito-borne illness to be worried about right now. There has also been an increase in the number of mosquitoes carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Which is even more deadly than West Nile virus.
So what can you do? Well, the most effective ways to prevent West Nile virus (and other mosquito-borne illnesses) are also the simplest.
Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos feed. Wear long pants and sleeves. Drain standing water from kid’s pools, birdbaths, and other receptacles that provide breeding grounds. And you can use effective natural insect repellants like those with eucalyptus oil or citronella and lemon and citrus oils. These natural plant oils are nature’s way of keeping insects away.
These are the best steps to protect yourself when government policies have once again failed you
Keep up with these strategies for another month or so, until the first frost hits. That will halt mosquitoes—and the spread of West Nile. At least until next year.