In South Dakota, mosquitoes are more than a late-night nuisance. More than 2,601 cases of West Nile virus (a bird disease spread to humans by mosquito bites) and 46 deaths have been reported in the state since 2001, making South Dakota the number one hotspot for the disease in the United States.
“South Dakota has a disproportionately high number of West Nile virus cases when compared to other states. Local mosquito control efforts play a vital role in protecting our communities,” said Bill Chalcraft, administrator of public health preparedness and response for the South Dakota Department of Health.
Fortunately, the virus generally causes few, if any, problems for most people. For some, general flu-like symptoms arise and then clear up after a few days. For about 1 percent of the population, however, West Nile virus can be debilitating or deadly.
Additionally, mosquitoes spread more than the West Nile virus; they can carry malaria, zika, encephalitis, chikungunya and dengue fever. The dangers a large mosquito population pose to public health has spurred major research on these biting creatures in South Dakota.
Last month, the South Dakota Department of Health announced that more than 200 South Dakota cities, counties and tribes will share $500,000 in grants intended to control mosquitoes and prevent West Nile virus.
Including this latest round of grants, the state has provided local mosquito control programs through more than $8 million in support, in either direct grant funding or control chemicals, since the virus emerged in South Dakota.
One mosquito-prevention project is a partnership between NASA Earth Science Applied Sciences team, local health officials and South Dakota State University. This group uses Earth-observing data to forecast the risk of West Nile virus.
The results of these ongoing research projects are open to the public. The public can check weekly and seasonal reports, take measures to prevent mosquito bites, and learn what is being done to control the overall mosquito population.
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, the best measures people can take to reduce their personal risk of contracting a mosquito-spread illness are:
• Use mosquito repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535, according to directions, when you are outdoors.
• To reduce the mosquito population around your home and property, reduce or eliminate all standing water (major breeding sites for mosquitoes).
• Remove all discarded tires on your property. Used tires have become an important source of mosquito breeding in the nation.
• Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
• Make sure roof gutters drain properly, and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
• Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
• Change the water in birdbaths.
• Clean vegetation and debris from edges of ponds.
• Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
• Drain water from pool covers.
• Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property.
“Most mosquito bites will just result in itchy spots on your skin,” said Laura Baatz, occupational health nurse at Sanford Underground Research Facility. “However, West Nile virus can cause symptoms including high fever, muscle weakness, vision loss, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, numbness or paralysis. If you experience any of these, you should see your doctor.”