JEFFERSON CITY - You can play a role in preventing the spread of West Nile Virus, according to the Missouri Health Department.
Last year, an unexpected number of Missourians were infected with the virus -- 168 people in 30 Missouri counties -- and the state needs to be better prepared for an outbreak this year, according to the Missouri Health Department. Seven Missouri deaths were linked to the virus. 277 bird and 662 horses tested positive to the virus.
According to the Missouri Health Department, containment of the virus must begin with better control of its vehicle: mosquitos.
"At this time of year, we're really hoping that communities will take a hint from biology and realize that something like 95 percent of mosquito habitat is man-made," said Karen Yates, who serves as director of the Vector-Bourne Disease Program within the Missouri Health Department.
The department is encouraging the public to seek out and destroy mosquito breeding grounds in their yards, houses and communties. Mosquitos breed in stagnant water -- even when it's left sitting for as little as four days. The public can help reduce the risk of West Nile by draining flowerpot saucers, birdbaths and children's swimming pools, and by removing trash, leaves and debris.
The public can also help by reporting all dead birds to their local public health agencies. Through the Dead Bird Surveillance Program, which is sponsored by the Missouri Health Department, all dead birds are sent to the MU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for testing.
The Centers for Disease Control has found that dead crows and blue jays serve as effective predictors of increased human risk for the virus.
Yates said it is crucial that at-risk areas are identified so that the appropriate measures can be taken.
"It's really important, especially during the early part of the season, that we detect early on where the virus is active so that local governments can take whatever steps they decide to take to try to control their population," she said.
With the help of various entities, the Missouri Health Department is also monitoring horses, mosquito populations and live birds through blood tests.
Rep. Robert Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said that despite efforts at containment, he expects the virus to be worst this year.
"There isn't a whole lot else you can do," he said.