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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois

Prevent West Nile Virus

Posted by Ron Wolford -

West Nile virus (WNV), which is carried by mosquitoes and can be transmitted to humans, has become a common summer time threat in northern Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments have already started the annual monitoring and testing for its presence by checking for the disease in birds. Typically, incidences increase later in the summer, but now is a good time to reduce potential mosquito breeding sites to help control the population. "Since mosquitoes that carry west nile virus do not travel far from their hatching site, it is helpful to eliminate egg-laying sites in your own backyard," says John Church, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Natural Resources, Rockford. They often only travel within one-half mile of their hatching site, so individuals can often help their situation by acting on their own property.

Homeowners can reduce favorable sites for mosquitoes' life cycle before the peak of the mosquito season. Entomologists at the University of Illinois and Purdue indicate that the entire life cycle of a mosquito can be completed in about seven to ten days. Anything that interrupts the cycle, such as reducing water availability, before it can be completed is helpful.

There are several varieties of mosquitoes in Illinois. Not all of them carry WNV. The Northern House mosquito, which carries WNV, lays eggs in standing water in places such as ditches, catch basins and other locations, such as water filled containers. Recent research information from the Illinois Department of Public Health indicates that as much as 70% of the breeding sites for the Northern House mosquito are in stormwater catch basins. Other attractive breeding sites in urbanizing areas include construction site tracks and ruts or new basement foundations that hold water. Clogged roof gutters can also provide breeding sites. Reducing the incidence of these problem sites will help reduce egg-laying and hatch.

Persons should eliminate any unnecessary water holding areas and containers, such as old tires. Sites such as wading pools, birdbaths, or pet watering dishes should be cleaned and freshened with new water often. Cutting tall grass and weeds can help reduce populations near the home, since it is a favorite hiding place during the day.

The floodwater mosquito, which is one of the most common nuisance mosquitoes, does not carry WNV. Their eggs are laid in muddy, temporary pool areas and hatch when flooded by rain or runoff water. Young mosquitoes live as larvae in water, but they are rarely found in deep water such as lakes or in flowing streams or rivers. Shallow, ponded areas are the most preferred sites. However, wetlands with a balanced diversity of wildlife can actually confine the mosquito population in that area and use it as a food source.

For individuals, remember that dark colored clothing tends to attract mosquitoes. They are often hungriest and most active at dusk and dawn, so less outside activity at that time can reduce biting. The peak biting time for the northern house mosquito is about 8:00 p.m. to midnight. Keep pets inside during those high feeding times and out of tall grassy areas, since they can also be bitten. Apply insect repellents to exposed skin when going outside and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

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