ATLANTA – West Nile Virus has claimed three lives and infected nearly two dozen in Georgia, a substantial increase since last year— and mosquitos are to blame.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has confirmed nearly 20 human cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) so far, this year.

In 2016, there were seven cases of WNV and no deaths.

“Georgians can reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes and yards by getting rid of standing water,” Chris Rustin, director of environmental health said. “Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that may be infected with West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases.”

Tip ‘n Toss all containers that can collect water, including flowerpots, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths. Anything that holds water, gives mosquitoes a place to grow—mosquitoes that carry the virus, look for stagnant water to lay eggs in.

According to the DPH, the most effective way to protect against WNV infection and all mosquito-borne diseases, is to prevent mosquito bites.

  • Dusk/Dawn: Mosquitoes carrying WNV usually bite at dusk and dawn, so avoid or limit outdoor activity at these times.
  • Dress: Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin.
  • DEET: Cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, which is the most effective repellent against mosquito bites.
  • Drain: Empty any containers holding standing water because they are excellent breeding grounds for virus-carrying mosquitoes.
  • Doors: Make sure doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly, and fix torn or damaged screens to keep mosquitoes out of the house.

Symptoms of WNV include headache, fever, neck discomfort, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a rash, and usually develop three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.