West Nile virus in humans is a disease spread by mosquitoes. The virus, first identified in the 1930s in eastern Africa, was discovered in the United States the summer of 1999.
Although not commonly fatal, it can cause those infected to develop mild symptoms such as fever, headache, body ache and a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Serious symptoms include confusion, high fever, coma, vision loss and tremors. It is thought that mosquitos become infected when they feed on infected birds. The majority of people that are bit, however, do not become symptomatic, and studies showing that only 20 percent of those who do become infected ever become seriously ill. Mild symptoms can get better on their own, but serious symptoms require medical attention, and usually hospitalization.
During August – continuing through early fall – the threat of West Nile is most serious. If you spend lots of time outdoors at this time of the year, you may be at risk. But there are steps you can take to minimize that risk. Consider the following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Use insect repellent on exposed skin when you go outdoors. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent such as those with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Even a short time being outdoors can be long enough to get a mosquito bite. Visit the Questions and Answers section of cdc.gov to learn about insect repellent safety.
Install or repair screens on doors and windows throughout your home.
Drain standing water where mosquitoes could lay their eggs. Limit the number of places around your home where mosquitoes could breed by getting rid of items that hold water.
Clothing can help reduce mosquito bites so spraying them with repellent offers more protection. If the weather permits, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. Please note: Do not apply repellents containing permethrin directly to skin. Also, do not spray repellent on the skin under your clothing.
Watch for dead fowl. Dead birds may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and the mosquitoes in an area.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to avoid bug bites is to stay inside. Protect yourself from mosquitoes by avoiding the outdoors at dawn and dusk when they are most active.
If you are bit by a mosquito and come down with flu-like symptoms after being bitten, seek medical attention immediately.
Courtesy of David Alcid, M.D., chief of Infectious Diseases at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, a member of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System. To find a physician affiliated with Saint Peter’s, visit saintpetershcs.com/findaphysician.