West Nile virus is back; what you need to know

Summer may be winding down, but experts warn now is not the time to let your guard down when it comes to mosquitoes — especially as you head outdoors in the evening for football games, cookouts, concerts etc.

In fact, peak West Nile season typically hits between August 15 and September 15, according to Elmer Gray, a University of Georgia Extension mosquito specialist.

On Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed the state’s first human case of West Nile virus of the season which began in June. The patient is an adult from Metro Atlanta and has recovered, according to the DPH.

West Nile is most often carried in Georgia by the Southern House Mosquito. These mosquitoes like it dry — kind of like it’s been this summer. They hang out in storm drains. And when there is little rain, water pools inside these drains, creating a perfect breeding ground for the Southern House Mosquitoes. When it rains a lot you are less likely to see West Nile cases because frequent rains wash the mosquito larvae out of the storm drains.

Georgia is home to 63 mosquito species. Eliminating larval habitats, wherever possible, is the key to reducing mosquito populations. Here are some tips from UGA’s Elmer to avoid being bit.

1. Mosquitoes need standing water to reproduce, so eliminating sources of standing water in yards and landscapes will go a long way to knocking down populations locally. Be on the look out for abandoned planters and flowerpot saucers, mop buckets, toys, overturned Frisbees and anything else that can hold water. Larvicidal briquets are available to treat water gardens, rain gardens, clogged drainage ditches or any other permanent landscape feature that holds water for more than a week.

2. Keeping grass trimmed and the vegetation around the borders of the yards cut back can also help reduce the areas where adult mosquitoes hide during the heat of the day.

3. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, so people may want to stay inside during those times to avoid bites. Gray also recommends checking, repairing and replacing window screens at this time of year to keep mosquitoes from making their way inside.

4. Wearing light-colored clothing will help keep mosquitoes at bay, but the most effective thing people can do to protect themselves is use insect repellent whenever they’re outside in a mosquito-prone area — like on a ball field, out in the yard or out in the woods, Gray said.

5. There are several commercially available, EPA approved repellents, like picaridin, lemon eucalyptus oil and IR3535. Gray prefers products with DEET because they have been tested and proven safe for children as young as two months old. A product with a 10 percent to 30 percent concentration is good and protects for a several hours. Gray said. When treating children, an adult should apply the repellent to his or her hands first and then rub the repellent onto the child’s exposed skin, but never to a child’s hands. Small children have a habit of sticking their hands in their mouths, and if they apply themselves there’s a good chance they’ll ingest some of it, he added.