How is West Nile Virus Transmitted?
West Nile Virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes, particularly the culex genus of mosquitoes, which are now widespread throughout North America. Mosquitoes transmit the virus after becoming infected by feeding on the blood of birds carrying the virus. Symptoms typically develop three to 15 days after a bite. It is important to realize that the risk of infection is low, and the risk of serious health effects is even lower. However, taking steps to protect yourself and your family, and to recognize the symptoms of West Vile Virus, is a sensible course of action.
What are the Symptoms of West Nile Virus?
The severity of the infection varies, with mild cases often including fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes. Patients with more severe symptoms may present with headache, high fever, stiff neck, sleepiness, confusion, coma, tremors, convulsions or paralysis. Anyone who experiences the sudden onset of these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. Death rates from West Nile Virus are estimated at 3%-15%.
Who Is at Risk for West Nile Virus?
In northern climates, the biggest risk of contracting West Nile Virus occurs in late summer or early fall, when mosquito populations are high. In southern areas, the risk may persist year-round. People who live in areas that have identified active cases of West Nile virus are most at risk, with those over 50 more likely to experience severe symptoms.
Outdoor workers, gardeners, or anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors should make it a habit to cover their skin with clothing and apply insect repellent. If there are reports in your area of infected mosquitoes, dead horses, dead birds, or identified cases of West Nile Virus, everyone should take immediate steps to minimize exposure to mosquitoes.
How Can You Protect Yourself Against West Nile Virus?
- Limit the time you spend outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
- Wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat when outdoors.
- Use insect repellents. Read and follow the manufacturers’ directions for safe use.
- Make sure that door and window screens fit tightly and have no holes.
You should also clean up mosquito prone areas around your home. Mosquitoes need standing water to breed, so remove any water that has gathered on pool covers, or in flower pot saucers, pet bowls, and wading pools. Other items that can collect water include old tires, clogged gutters or drainage ditches, and even small containers such as cans or bottle tops. Empty and clean bird baths twice a week.
Community health organizations also help control the spread of this disease, by monitoring dead birds, reducing breeding areas and distributing information as soon as it becomes available.
– Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph PUblic Health, Protect Yourself from West Nile Virus
– Health Canada, West Nile Virus
– Medicinenet.com, West Nile Encephalitis
– Culex larvae image was published in a Public Library of Science journal. Their website states that the content of all PLoS journals is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.