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Environmental Health Services

The Department of Environmental Health is responsible for administering environmental programs and services to reduce the incidence of environmental conditions which may adversely impact the health, safety and well being of the citizens of Portsmouth. Enforcement of applicable city and state statues and codes occurs through public education efforts as well as through legal actions.

For more information about Environmental Health Services 393-8585 extension 8585.

Food Establishment and Institutional Programs
General Environmental Programs

Fee Chart of Services **
Permits Fee
State Food (restaurants, mobiles) $40.00
Hotel $40.00
Duplicate $10.00
Temporary Food (for the year) $40.00
Body Art (tattoos, body piercing except just ears) $1,500.00
Pool/Spa (Annual) $75.00
Pool/Spa (Seasonal) $50.00
Plan Reviews Fee
Restaurant, Mobiles Plan Review $40.00
Hotel Plan Review $40.00
Pools/Spa Plan Review $40.00
Body Art Plan Review $200.00
Training and Food Safety Courses Fee
Certified Food Managers (English w/ English Book) $165.00
Certified Food Managers Recertification $65.00
Certified Food Managers Re-test $50.00
Food Handlers Class per person $10.00
Food Handler Class "off-site" - minimum charge $200.00
Certified Pool Operator (Self-Study Course) $50.00
Certified Pool Operator (Re-Test) $15.00
Administrative Fees Fee
Xerox Copies

.50/pg up to 50 pages
.25/pg over 50 pages

Duplicate Food Handlers Card $10.00
Freedom Of Information FOI Request $20/hr
minimum 15 minutes
Transfer Certified Food Manager Certificate $10.00
Well Fees Fee
Betterment Loan Eligibility Letters $50.00
Private well only $300.00

CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
VMCA Virginia Mosquito Control Association
EPA-Environmental Protection Agency-Pesticides
VDACS-Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

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Body Art Establishments

Body Art includes tattooing, permanent makeup and piercing. In the City of Portsmouth body art establishments are required to be permitted each year and inspected on a regular basis. Body Art and Piercing Inspections are based on the Code of Portsmouth.

"Body Art...What To Know" [Adobe PDF document]

"How To Obtain Body Art Establishment/Body Artist Permits" [Adobe PDF document]

For further information call (757)393-8585 extension 8585. - Click here for application forms... -

Body Art Establishment regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

Food Service Managers Educational Programs

The certification process occurs when individuals demonstrate through a certification program that they have met specified food safety knowledge standards. The Certified Food Manager is responsible for monitoring and managing all food establishment operations and is authorized to take appropriate preventive and corrective actions. This individual is knowledgeable about foodborne disease prevention, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, and Code requirements and is prepared to take actions to ensure that the Code's objectives are met. The Department of Environmental Health offers classes for Manager Certification and Manager Re certification throughout the year. The Certified Food Managers Card is valid for 3 years and should be renewed prior to expiration. Managers that have been certified in another city or have successfully completed an approved course in food protection and who wish to work in Portsmouth shall register in Portsmouth by showing certification documents and by paying a transfer fee. call 393-8585 extension 8585 or - Click for class information... -

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Food Handlers Educational Programs

Individuals who work with unpackaged and/or packaged food, food equipment or utensils, or food contact surfaces are required to possess a food service (handlers) card. Food service cards are required prior to employment and are valid for 2 years. A food service card issued by another city may be honored. Call 393-8585 extension 8585 or - Click here for class information.

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Food Protection

The Department of Environmental Health Food Protection Program is responsible for the permitting and inspection of retail and institutional food facilities. These include restaurants, convenience stores, groceries, public and private schools, universities, homes for adults, nursing homes, day care centers, hospitals, jail and detention facilities, mobile vendors and push carts, religious institutions. Facilities are inspected throughout the year to determine compliance with federal, state, and local regulations with the goal of protection from foodborne illness and communicable disease. Complaints regarding food establishments are investigated with priority response given to both citizen complaints of foodborne illness and complaints concerning substantial hazards to the public health. To register a complaint, please call 393-8585 extension 8585.

Regulations can be accessed by going to

- Web Link to Portsmouth City Food Code -

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Foodborne Illness Investigation

"Foodborne illness in the United States is a major cause of personal distress, preventable death, and avoidable economic burden" as stated by the Food and Drug Administration. It has been estimated that from 6.5 to 33 million people become ill from microorganisms in food, resulting in as many as 9,000 needless deaths every year. The wide range in cases of foodborne illness is due to the uncertainty about the number that go unreported. The annual cost of foodborne illness in terms of pain and suffering, reduced productivity, and medical costs is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The Department of Environmental Health responds to all reports of suspected foodborne illnesses implicating food sold or served in Portsmouth. Signs and symptoms vary, but common symptoms include vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Most cases of foodborne illness last between 24-48 hours. Symptoms generally appear between 2 to 36 hours after eating the suspected food. Most cases are single cases and not associated with large outbreaks; however, many times the health department hears about outbreaks involving groups attending the same function. For additional information on foodborne illnesses go to or Our goals are to identify the foods responsible for the illness, collect accurate and complete information from the persons involved, collect samples of the suspected food, when possible and appropriate, identify possible contributing factors, correct the improper food handling practices that may have contributed to the illness.

When reporting a suspected foodborne illness, the following information will be needed: name, address, phone number complainant, where suspect meal or food item was obtained, the facility's address and any contact people, date and time meal consumed, a 72 hour food history (to include all foods eaten and beverages consumed in the 3 days prior to the first sign of illness), names and phone numbers of others that have become ill, onset of symptoms, description of symptoms, any medical contact. To file a complaint concerning a food related illness, call 393-8585 extension 8585. Additional information on foodborne illnesses can be found at food safety sites noted in the links section.

Regulations can be accessed by going to

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Food Establishments

Plans and specifications for new and remodeled food establishments are reviewed in order to determine compliance with the rules and regulations governing food establishments using federal, state, and local guidelines. A floor plan, which includes an equipment layout and finish schedule as well as menu, should be submitted prior to any construction. Whenever a food establishment is constructed, remodeled, or converted for use as a food establishment, plans and specifications for construction, remodeling or conversion, must be submitted prior to commencement of such construction, remodeling, or conversion. The owner will have final responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the plans and specifications, as well as for subsequent construction and installation according to all state and local requirements. Plans shall be reviewed prior to issuance of building permits by the city code official. For additional information you may call 393-8585 extension 8585. - Click here for application forms... -

Regulations can be accessed by going to

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Tourist Establishments

Tourist Establishments include hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, summer camps and campgrounds. These facilities are inspected to determine compliance with health and safety laws, governed by Commonwealth of Virginia Rules and Regulations, and to initiate enforcement procedures when necessary. Permits are issued annually for the lodging facility. Additional permits may be issued for on-site restaurants, continental breakfasts, swimming pools and spas. Call 393-8585 extension 8585 for further information.

Tourist establishment regulations can be accessed by reading Commonwealth of Virginia's Sanitary Regulations for Hotels.

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Mobile Vendors and Push Carts

Rules and Regulations govern Mobile food preparation units, which include mobile vendor units and push carts are vehicles used for a variety of food preparation activities. These units must operate daily from a commissary in order to facilitate cleaning and servicing operations, food storage and renewal of supplies. This also includes the flushing and draining of liquid waste to an approved sewerage system and water servicing equipment that is approved. With this said a commissary is a location, designed for the sanitary storage and servicing needs of the mobile units. Approved commissaries hold valid health permits and receive regular inspections. The vendor shall obtain written permission authorizing their use of the approved commissary and shall provide that to the health department. In order to promote the safe and sanitary handling of food, these mobile units are inspected, as are their commissaries. They may be limited in what they can offer due to equipment restrictions. Mobile Vendors and Pushcarts are required to also purchase a tracking decal, which needs to be revalidated each year. They may be restricted to particular areas of the city due to land use and zoning requirements. For more information call 393-8585 extension 8585. - Click here for application forms... -

Mobile vendor and push cart regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

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Temporary Food Service and Outdoor Events

Temporary permits are issued for food booths operating at a single event or celebration, such as a fair, carnival, or festival and are governed by rules and regulations. If the food is not prepared and handled in a sanitary manner, the public's health may be at risk. The safe food handling guidelines brochure designed to protect the public health and an application are provided. Please complete the application and submit for review. Call 393-8585 extension 8585 for further information. - Click here for application forms... -

Temporary food service and outdoor events regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

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Disaster and Emergency Preparedness

The entire Bureau's staff is available and on call during natural or man-made disasters to ensure protection of the food supply, water and sewage disposal surveillance, refuse disposal and to protect the health of the public, whether in a shelter environment or during the recovery phase. For more information call 393-8585 extension 8585.

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Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Services of the Lead Program include screening, education and environmental samples, medical and environmental case management. Because children from six months through six years of age are most susceptible to lead poisoning, the program focus is on working with physicians to provide blood lead screening for all children from six months to six years of age and in teaching contractors and property owners to make houses lead safe before children are poisoned. For more information call 393-8585 extension 8585.

Additional information concerning Lead Poisoning can be found at VDH's Lead Poisoning Prevention website.

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Private Wells

All private wells require a construction permit prior to installation and are governed by rules and regulations. This permit ensures that the well is located away from sources of pollution and is also constructed properly to protect the city’s ground water resource. For more information call 393-8585 extension 8585. - Click here for application forms... -

Private well regulations can be found at Virginia's Legislative Information System website.

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Swimming Pools

All public pools are inspected during the swimming season to ensure bather safety according to rules and regulations. Environmental Health Specialists conduct tests on water samples and ensure pools are properly constructed and maintained.

Swimming pools can be the source of many diseases and injuries. The proper construction and maintenance of public swimming pools and spas is of significant public health importance. Should there be an incident of fecal contamination* for information necessary for sanitary operation of the pool. Annual pool seminars are held in the spring of each year, hosted by various health departments, with the goal of educating and certifying swimming pool operators. Basic knowledge of water treatment for swimming pools and the ability to perform the chemical tests necessary to maintain safe water quality are covered. The code requires that a certified pool operator manage the operation of the pool and that there be posting of water quality test results. For more information call 393-8585 extension 8585. - Click here for application forms... -

* Fecal Incident Response (PDF)
Check list requirements for pools / spas opening inspections (PDF)
How To Obtain a Health Department Permit for Swimming Pools (PDF)
Pool tips For Healthful Swimming (PDF)
Certified Pool Operator’s Self Study Course (PDF)

Swimming Pool regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

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Marina Sanitation

The Commonwealth of Virginia has sanitary regulations for marinas and boat moorings. The regulations establish minimum requirements as to adequacy of sewerage facilities serving the boat slips, as well as the persons the marinas are designed to accommodate. The Division of Wastewater Engineering reviews the technical aspects of applications, plans and specifications and issue certificates of adequacy for sewerage facilities. The Marine Resources Commission is notified when a certificate is issued or denied. The local Office of Environmental Health inspects for compliance with the regulations to ensure proper sanitation and cleanliness of the facility and issue permits. Information about the Marina Program may be accessed at ../EnvironmentalHealth/Wastewater/MARINA/ or call 393-8585 extension 8585 for more information.

Marina Sanitation regulations can be found in Chapter 570 Commonwealth of Virginia Sanitary Regulations for Marinas and Boat Moorings.

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Rabies Control Program

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in humans and other warm-blooded animals. Rabies is termed a zoonosis, which means a disease that is usually transmitted from animals to other animals but can also be transmitted to humans through the bite of a rabid animal. Once inside the body, the virus replicates in the bitten muscle and travels up the nerves to reach the central nervous system and brain where a majority of the clinical symptoms occur. Until the virus reaches the brain there are usually no symptoms. Once acquired and left untreated, rabies is 100% fatal. Human rabies cases in the U.S. currently average two per year. Cases of rabies in domestic pets average 400 to 500 per year. The Portsmouth City Code Sec. 4-96. - Vaccination of dogs and cats – requires any person who owns, keeps, harbors or has in his care, custody or control, any dog or cat four months old or older to be vaccinated against rabies within a period of 12 months, if such dog or cat has been vaccinated or inoculated by the one-year vaccine or within a period of 36 months if such dog or cat has been vaccinated or inoculated by the three-year vaccine.

All species of mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection, but only a few species are important as reservoirs for the disease. In the United States, distinct strains of rabies virus have been identified in raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Several species of bats are also reservoirs for strains of the rabies virus.
Cats, dogs, ferrets and livestock can also get rabies if they are not vaccinated to protect them. Deer and large rodents, such as woodchucks, have been found rabid in areas affected by raccoon rabies.
Some animals rarely get rabies. These include wild rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters. There are other animals that never get rabies including birds, snakes, fish, turtles, lizards and insects.

The time between the exposure and the appearance of symptoms is called the incubation period and it may last for weeks to months. A bite by an animal during the incubation period does not carry a risk of the disease because the virus has not yet made it to the saliva. It is late in the disease, after the virus has reached the brain and multiplied causing brain inflammation, when the virus moves from the brain to the salivary glands and saliva.
Also at this time, after the virus has multiplied in the brain, almost all animals begin to show the first signs of rabies. Most of these signs are obvious to even an untrained observer, but within a short period of time, usually within 3 to 5 days, the virus has caused enough damage to the brain that the animal begins to show unmistakable signs of rabies.
The first sign of rabies is usually a change in the animal’s behavior. It may become unusually aggressive or unusually tame. The animal may lose fear of people and natural enemies. It may become excited, irritable and snap at anything in its path. Or, it may appear affectionate and friendly. Staggering, convulsions, spitting, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are sometimes noted. Many animals have a marked change in voice. The animal usually dies within one week after showing signs of rabies.

** Virginia Guidelines for Rabies Prevention and Control when Dog, Cat or Ferret Exposed to Rabies (PDF)**

The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva or brain/nervous system tissue. You can only get rabies by coming in contact with these specific bodily excretions and tissues such as when the virus is introduced into a bite wound, open cuts in skin, or onto mucous membranes such as the mouth or eyes.  Any penetration of the skin by teeth constitutes a bite exposure. The contamination of open wounds, abrasions, mucous membranes, or theoretically, scratches (potentially contaminated with infectious material from a rabid animal) constitutes a non-bite exposure.
Contact such as petting or handling an animal, or contact with blood, urine or feces does not constitute an exposure. No post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is needed in these situations.

Even if an apparently healthy domestic dog, cat, ferret or other domestic animal bites a person, the animal must be confined to limit contact with other humans/animals and observed for ten days following the bite.  The Portsmouth City Code - Sec. 4-98. - Quarantine of certain animals – requires the keeping of any animal under such conditions of reasonable security, confinement, or strict isolation as may be determined by the director of public health to be necessary or desirable in the interest of public health and safety.
Dogs, cats and ferrets that bite humans or other animals should be considered suspect rabid until the end of the 10 day quarantine/observation period.
If it remains healthy during this period, the animal did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. All wild animals must be tested for rabies (if possible) if human or domestic animal exposures have occurred. Report all animal bites to the Portsmouth Environmental Health Services.
The Environmental Health Services division conducts investigations of all reported animal and human exposures. Contact the Portsmouth Health Department at 393-8585 extension 8585.

** Virginia Guidelines for Rabies Prevention and Control when Human Exposed to Domestic Animal (PDF)**

In Portsmouth, as mentioned above, an animal that has bitten a human or another domestic animal must undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine period. Usually the Portsmouth Health Department will allow the quarantine to be carried out at the owner’s home. 
The quarantine is set at 10 days because a rabies-infected animal can only transmit the disease after clinical signs have developed.  Once these signs have developed, the animal will die within 10 days. If the animal lives beyond the 10th day, it can be said with certainty that it was not shedding the rabies virus at the time that the bite occurred.  If the animal dies before the 10th day, it can be tested for rabies. If the test is positive, a human bite victim will still have enough time to receive post-exposure vaccinations and prevent the disease

Sec. 4-98 also states that in Portsmouth, an unvaccinated domestic animal that has been bitten by a wild animal or that has received a suspected bite wound of unknown origin must undergo a six-month rabies quarantine. Most often, this quarantine can be carried out in an approved fenced enclosure at the owner’s expense. Because the incubation period for rabies is usually less than six months, this quarantine period is meant to ensure that the animal does not have rabies before it is allowed to come into regular contact with humans and other animals again.
If an owner is unable to comply with this law or cannot afford to pay for the mandatory six-month quarantine, the only alternative for the pet is mandatory euthanasia and testing for rabies. Keeping your pet’s rabies vaccination up to date will ensure that he never needs to be quarantined for six months, even if he is bitten by a wild animal.

Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention as soon as possible by visiting your doctor or a health care facility. Regardless of the risk of rabies, bite wounds can cause serious injury such as nerve or tendon laceration and local and system infection. Your doctor will determine the best way to care for your wound, and will also consider how to treat the wound for the best possible cosmetic results. If the animal can be confined, wait until the end of the confinement period before considering post exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
 If a rabies-suspect biting animal cannot be observed or tested, or it tests positive for rabies, PEP treatment should begin immediately.

If your pet has been in a fight with another animal, wear gloves to handle it. Isolate it from other animals. Call your veterinarian and Portsmouth Environmental Health Services. Your vaccinated pet will need a booster immunization with rabies vaccine within five days of the exposure. Unvaccinated animals exposed to a known or suspected rabid animal must be confined for six months or humanely destroyed.

Don’t feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or cats. Be sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Vaccinated pets serve as a buffer between rabid wildlife and man. Protect them, and you may reduce your risk of exposure to rabies. Vaccines for dogs, cats and ferrets after three months of age are effective for a one year period. Re-vaccinations in dogs and cats are effective for up to three years. Pets too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors. Some new vaccines have now been licensed, and therefore, can be used for younger animals. Keep family pets indoors at night. Don’t leave them outside unattended or let them roam free. Don’t attract wild animals to your home or yard. Keep your property free of stored bird seed or other foods which may attract wild animals. Feed pets indoors. Tightly cap or put away garbage cans. Board up any openings to your attic, basement, porch or garage. Cap your chimney with screens.
Bats can be particularly difficult to keep out of buildings because they can get through cracks as small as a pencil. Methods to keep bats out (bat proofing) of homes and summer camps should be done during the fall and winter. Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if they are bitten by any animal. Tell children not to touch any animal they do not know.

If a wild animal is on your property, contact an animal control officer to remove animal. Do not touch any animal or come in contact with any animal that appears to be sick. Observe the animal from a distance so you can alert animal control to its whereabouts for capture. Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the Portsmouth Health Department. Depending on the species, it can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment. This includes bats with skin contact or found in a room with a sleeping person, unattended child, or someone with mental impairment. Bats have small, sharp teeth and in certain circumstances people can be bitten and not know it.

Call the Portsmouth Health Department, Environmental Health 393-8585 extension 8585. And the CDC website:

Rabies control regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

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** Please note at that time PHD does not conduct rat control investigations. **

  • Rats are among man’s worst animal pets due to their abundance, destructiveness, and potential for disease transmission.
  • They destroy millions of dollars worth of property each year and consume and contaminate food.
  • Rats bite people and are hosts to ectoparasites including fleas, mites, and ticks that transmit disease from rats to man.
  • While plague is historically the most infamous of diseases spread by rats, other possible diseases include rat bite fever, salmonellosis, murine typhus, and leptospirosis.


  • Gnawings on boxes or containers of easily accessible food and along runways and burrows.
  • Runways (rub marks or paths frequented by rats)
  • Burrows along the foundation of a house or other dwelling
  • Droppings (small, pellet shaped) in areas frequented by rats

    While young mice and rats are similar in appearance they are different species. Mice do not grow up to be rats.


Rats eat from a variety of sources:

  • Leftovers, dirty dishes, and garbage
  • Stored foods (ex: boxes of cereal)
  • Pet foods and dog droppings
  • Grass seed and bird feed
  • Fallen or rotten fruit

Rats live in a variety of places:

  • Garbage
  • High grass and weeds
  • Junk, wood, and junk cars
  • Your house, garage, or shed

Rat control regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

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Citizens can prevent mosquitoes from breeding by turning over or removing containers around the home where rainwater collects, such as old tires, potted plant trays, buckets, and toys. Citizens also are advised to clean birdbaths and wading pools once a week, to clean roof gutters and downspouts screens regularly, and eliminate standing water on flat roofs.

Citizens can protect themselves from mosquitoes while outside by wearing long, loose and light-colored clothing. Use insect repellent products with no more than 20-30 percent DEET for adults and less than 10 percent for children. Follow label instructions when using insect repellents.

What is West Nile virus infection?
 The West Nile virus infection is one that is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes and usually causes a mild illness, but may also cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). This virus is named after the West Nile region of Uganda where the virus was first isolated in 1937. It caused an outbreak in New York in 1999.

Who gets West Nile virus infection?
Anyone can get West Nile virus infection if bitten by an infected mosquito; however, even in areas where transmission of West Nile virus is known to be occurring only a small proportion of mosquitoes are likely to be infected. Even if a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, the chance of developing illness is approximately 1/200. People who are over age 50 are at greater risk of severe illness.

How is West Nile virus spread?
West Nile virus is spread by infected mosquitoes. A mosquito is infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. West Nile virus is not spread from one person to another or directly from birds to humans.

I’ve gotten a mosquito bite. Should I be tested for West Nile virus infection?     
No, most mosquitoes are not infected with West Nile virus. See a physician if you develop the symptoms below.

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus infection?     
The disease may be mild or serious. Mild illness includes fever and muscle aches, swollen lymph glands and sometimes a skin rash. In the elderly, infection may spread to the nervous system or bloodstream and cause sudden fever, intense headache, and stiff neck and confusion, possibly resulting in encephalitis or meningitis. Healthy children and adults may not have any symptoms.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?
The symptoms generally appear about 3 to 15 days after exposure but may appear as soon as 1 day after exposure or as late as 7 or more days.

Does past infection with West Nile virus make a person immune?
Yes, a person who gets West Nile virus probably cannot get it again.

What is the treatment for West Nile virus infection? Is there a vaccine for West Nile virus?
There is no specific treatment. Supportive therapy will be used in more severe cases. Most people recover from this illness. There is no vaccine.

How can West Nile virus infection be prevented?
It can be prevented by controlling the mosquito population and protecting against mosquito bites.

  • Wear long, loose and light-colored clothing.
  • If possible, stay indoors when mosquitoes are biting.
  • Use insect repellent products with no more than 35 percent DEET for adults and less than 10 percent for children.
  • Turn over or remove containers in your yard where water collects, such as old tires, potted plant trays, buckets and toys.
  • Eliminate standing water on tarps or flat roofs.
  • Clean out birdbaths and wading pools once a week.
  • Clean roof gutters and downspout screens

Where can I get more information on West Nile virus?
Call your local health department or visit the following web sites - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention VDH Office of Epidemiology American Mosquito Control Association

Mosquito control regulations can be accessed by going to City of Portsmouth's Virginia Code of Ordinances.

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What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.

Where are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.

Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

Bed bugs should not be considered as a medical or public health hazard. Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

What health risks do bed bugs pose?

A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.

What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?

One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:

  • the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
  • bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
  • rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
  • a sweet musty odor.

How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?

It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea -- a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.

Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.

How did I get bed bugs?

Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel. Contrary to popular opinion,  bed bugs do not jump on people as they are walking through a room.

Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?

Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.

How are bed bugs treated and prevented?

Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.

Can you treat and eliminate the bed bugs on your own?

Bed bugs are challenging pests to get rid of, since they hide so well and reproduce so quickly. In addition, the egg stage is resistant to many forms of treatment, so a single attempt may not be sufficient to complete the job. Treating bed bugs is complex. Your likelihood of success depends on many factors, including: 

  • Extent of the infestation.
  • Site-specific challenges.
    • Clutter.
    • Neighbors with infestations.
    • Ability of all of the residents to participate. 

Achieving complete control can take weeks to months, depending on the nature and extent of the infestation.

How do I Keep the Infestation from Spreading?

  • Anything removed from the room should be placed in a sealed plastic bag and treated.
    • Items that cannot be treated should be placed in a sealed plastic bag and left for an extended period of time to ensure any active bugs are dead (research shows variation in the length of time needed, but it can be as long as a year).
  • Empty the vacuum after each use.
    • Seal the bag and throw it out in an outdoor trash container.
  • Don't discard furniture if you can eliminate the bed bugs from it.
  • If furniture cannot be salvaged, discard it responsibly. Destroy it so someone else won't be tempted to bring it into their home. For example:
    • Rip covers and remove stuffing from furniture items.
    • Use spray paint to mark furniture with "Bed Bugs." 
  • Take steps to have infested items picked up as soon as possible by the trash collection agency.

Do I Need To Do Anything  Before Treatment?

Jumping straight into control is tempting, but won't work. Preparing for treatment is essential to getting successful control. It will also help by making it easier for you to monitor for bed bugs that haven't been completely eliminated. This preparation should be conducted whether you are doing the treatment yourself or hiring a professional.

How Can I Kill Bed Bugs?

  • Make sure the methods you select are safe, effective and legal. See What's Legal, What's Not for more information.
  • Consider non-chemical methods of killing bed bugs. Some will be more useful than others.
    • Heat treatment using a clothes dryer on high heat, black plastic bags in the sun or a hot, closed car (pest management professionals have other methods that are not suitable for non-trained individuals to use).
    • Cold treatment can be successful in the home environment if the freezer is set to 0o F. You must leave the items in the freezer at that temperature for four days. (Always use a thermometer to check the temperature, since home freezers are not always set to 0o.)
    • Reducing the numbers of bugs with these and other non-chemical methods is helpful, but is unlikely to entirely eliminate the infestation.
  • If needed, use pesticides carefully according to the label directions or hire a pest management professional.
    • Look for EPA-registered pesticides.
    • Bed bugs must be listed on the label.
    • Use foggers (bug bombs) only with extreme care. Improper use can harm your health or cause a fire/explosion.
  • Because foggers work with a broadcast spraying action, they should not be used as the sole source of bed bug control. The spray will not reach the cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide. 
  • Every few days after you complete your initial cleanup and control processes, carefully look for any evidence of bed bugs.
    • If you see bed bugs, that means that either the initial cleanup missed some individuals or that eggs have hatched (finding and removing or killing all eggs can be very difficult) and retreatment may be needed.
  • If repeated treatments are needed, consider using pesticides with different modes of action.
    • Desiccants (drying agents) can be particularly effective in some situations since they work by drying out the bug (which means the bed bugs can't develop resistance to it).
  • If using desiccants, be sure to use only products registered as a pesticide.
  • Do not use pool or food-grade diatomaceous earth - this type of diatomaceous earth can harm you when you breathe it in. The pesticide version uses a different size of diatoms, which reduces the hazard.
  • Desiccants can be very effective; however, they can take up to several months to work.
  • Bed bug interceptor (place under furniture legs to catch bed bugs)

How Do I Evaluate and Prevent a Re-infestation?

  • Continue to inspect for presence of bed bugs, at least every 7 days, in case any eggs remained.
    • Interceptors (placed under the legs of furniture to catch bed bugs and keep them from climbing the legs; commercial and do-it-yourself versions available), traps or other methods of monitoring can be used.
  • Continue to implement preventive measures.

For additional information, please see:

Bed Bug Control in Residences -- University of Minnesota  Exit

Bed Bugs Integrated Pest Management in and Around the Home -- University of California  

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Last Updated: 08-13-2015

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