The concern and increased media attention on Zika virus is important, however the disease is still quite rare in the U.S. compared to other mosquito borne illnesses like West Nile Virus.
Cases of West Nile Virus have been reported across the country in the last several years and poses a greater risk for older adults and others who become exposed. Preventing the spread of this disease has been helped in large part by community awareness. And many of the steps being recommended in order to prevent mosquitoes from transmitting Zika virus are just as effective for West Nile.
How is West Nile Virus Spread?
Mosquitoes are known to become infected with West Nile when they bite infected birds. Those mosquitoes then spread to the virus humans and other animals via bites. Far less commonly, West Nile Virus is spread through blood, breast milk or in-utero from mother to unborn baby. Risk for transmission of the disease through medical procedures is very low.
West Nile Virus typically flares up in the summertime when mosquitoes are most prevalent and people are more likely to be bitten by them.
West Nile Virus cannot be spread through the air or by touching or kissing someone who has the disease. Less than 1% of mosquitoes found in an area where the disease is found are usually infected with the virus.
What are the Symptoms of West Nile Virus?
Most people (about 80%) of those who become infected with West Nile will show no symptoms at all. Two out of 10 who do become infected will show symptoms that are relatively mild and can include fever, head and body aches, nausea and vomiting, skin rashes on the stomach, back or chest, and swollen lymph glands. If symptoms do appear, they typically develop between and week and several months after being been bitten by an infected mosquito.
About 1 in 150 people subjected to the virus develop more severe symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, vision loss and even paralysis or coma. Some with severe symptoms risk potentially permanent neurological damage. People over fifty years old are at the highest risk of severe symptoms.
How Can I Prevent West Nile Virus?
Follow these guidelines to help prevent the spread of West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses:
- Use mosquito repellent containing DEET.
- Stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active – from dusk until dawn.
- Where long sleeved, light colored clothes.
- Make sure your home has good door and window screens.
- Remove areas of standing-water where mosquitoes can breed
- If you find a dead bird, don’t pick it up with your bare hands. Contact your state local health department for instructions before you dispose of it.
What Should I do If I Suspect I May Have West Nile Virus?
There is no treatment for West Nile and those with milder symptoms will likely improve on their own. Those with severe symptoms should seek medical care right away and may require hospitalization. Pregnant and nursing mothers should speak with their physician if they believe they are having symptoms of the virus.
For the latest information on West Nile Virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at: www.cdc.gov/westnile