Is it that dangerous?
Summer is right around the corner and 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 has 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 do have symptoms, they don’t present until 2 -14 days after you’ve been bitten. For most people who have symptoms, they are usually mild and include fever, headache, body aches, vomiting diarrhea, fatigue and skin rash. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of people develop a serious infection that can cause neurological issues, such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and membranes that surround the brain/spinal cord (meningitis). Symptoms of this type of West Nile virus include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, tremors, seizures, muscle weakness, partial paralysis and/or coma. You’re more likely to have a serious infection if your elderly or have another medical condition that compromise your immune system or alters how your body normally functions, 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 that reduce pain. Severe cases require hospitalization in order to provide the person with intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medication. Also, these individuals need to be monitored because the inflammation to their brain and spinal cord increases the pressure in these areas. Since these spaces don’t have extra room in them, any change in pressure can be catastrophic. The symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis can linger for several weeks or months. Sometimes, the neurological changes can be permanent.
There are two important 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, remove anything from your yard that will collect water and change 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, avoid being outside during dawn, dusk and early evening when mosquitoes are more likely to be out, cover children’s strollers with a mosquito net and use mosquito repellent. 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 in preventing 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