Is it that dangerous?
Being outside is one of the best things; however, with it comes our least favorite pests…mosquitoes! While they can carry a variety of diseases, some can be more serious than others. Which category does the West Nile virus fall under? How can you tell if you have it? What is the treatment for it? Can you prevent it from occurring?
West Nile virus is typically transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds. It’s been present in many parts of the world for years but didn’t appear in the United States until 1999. It’s more prevalent in warmer months when mosquitoes are most active. Usually, the majority of people don’t experience any symptoms. If you have symptoms, they don’t present until 2 -14 days after you’ve been bitten. For most people who have symptoms, they’re usually mild and include fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and skin rash.
Unfortunately, a tiny percentage of people develop a severe infection that can cause neurological issues, such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and membranes surrounding the brain/spinal cord (meningitis). Symptoms of this include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, tremors, seizures, muscle weakness, partial paralysis, and coma. You’re more likely to have a severe infection if you’re elderly or have another medical condition compromising your immune system or altering how your body functions typically, like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease.
The two types of West Nile virus are treated very differently. Mild versions will go away on their own within a few days. The key is to feel more comfortable by treating the symptoms. You can do this by taking over-the-counter medications.
Severe cases require hospitalization to provide the person with intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medication. Also, these individuals need to be monitored because the brain and spinal cord inflammation increase pressure in these areas. Since these spaces don’t have extra room, any change in pressure can be catastrophic. The symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis can linger for several weeks or months. Sometimes, neurological changes can be permanent.
There are two things that you can do to decrease your chances of getting the West Nile virus. The first is to get rid of any standing water around your house because this is where mosquitoes breed. You can do this by unclogging roof gutters, removing anything from your yard that will collect water, and changing the water in any birdbaths/pet bowls frequently. Also, installing or repairing screens on your home’s windows and doors prevents mosquitoes from entering your house.
The second thing you should do is to decrease your exposure level by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside and avoid being outside during dawn, dusk, and early evening when mosquitoes are more likely to be out. For children, cover their strollers with a mosquito net.
Using mosquito repellent is also helpful. The key thing to remember when using a repellent is that the concentration of the active ingredient should be higher if you’re going to be spending a long time outside. Also, don’t allow children to apply their own repellent, and take care not to get it anywhere that might end up in their eyes or mouth.
While most people don’t have any issues with West Nile virus, it’s still important to take precautions to prevent it. If you have any questions or concerns about West Nile virus, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s West Nile virus page at https://www.cdc.gov/westnile/index.html