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Lawn-watering linked to West Nile virus

8th November 2011

In the US, people who become infected with West Nile virus tend to live near irrigation canals, according to a recent study there.

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The virus is fatal in a small number cases, especially where elderly people are concerned.

It can also cause permanent brain damage due to rapid brain swelling and spinal inflammation.

Victor Cardenas, from the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health in the US, said that people whose neighbours flooded their lawns in order to water the grass, or who lived near areas that underwent flood irrigation, should wear long sleeves during the summer and apply a DEET-based mosquito repellent.

He said that it was not realistic to assume people would not use water from the canal in order to irrigate their lawns and gardens, and that people bought property in such locations in order to make use of cheap water.

Laura Kramer, from the Wadsworth Centre at the New York State Department of Health, who was not involved in the study, said she felt it was important for people to remember that they could be putting their neighbours at risk by providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes to spread a potentially deadly disease.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, body aches, and headaches.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers began to suspect that certain areas of El Paso County, on the Mexico border, seemed to have higher than average numbers of people contracting West Nile virus.

They did a survey of everyone who had been diagnosed with the virus in 2009 and 2010, as well as an equal number of people who had not.

Each person reported whether or not a neighbour had used canal water to water his or her lawn.

Cardenas said that flooding one's lawn with canal water provided mosquitoes with an ideal breeding ground, due to the fact that there was clay in the soil.

He said that areas with clay deposits stopped the water from draining into the ground, giving mosquitoes a place to lay their eggs.

In a follow-up study, the researchers looked at 182 people who had been diagnosed with the virus in the past seven years.

The researchers also chose 182 people randomly, as a control.

People who had the virus were much more likely to live next to a canal than people who had not.

Cardenas said that the virus would have a chance to spread anywhere people used the same type of irrigation to water the land.

Kramer disagreed with the applicability of the study, and said that mosquitoes in New York did not breed the same as mosquitoes further west in the US.

She said that mosquitoes in New York were more likely to breed in water containers, drains and pools, and agreed that more people should use mosquio repellent in order to avoid getting sick.

Cardenas said that people with chronic diseases and older men should be particularly careful to wear mosquito repellent.


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