Scary Mosquitoes & West Nile Virus

Bzzz….swat! The mosquitoes are particularly annoying this time of year, and now we have more to worry about than an itchy red arm- the West Nile Virus (WNV) is spiking again. In fact, the 1118 cases of human West Nile viral infection that have been reported to the CDC in 2012 mark the highest number of cases since the recognition of this disease back in 1999. Unfortunately for my neck of the woods, over 75% of the cases have occurred in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota, including 41 deaths. That’s the bad news. The good news is that very few people who are infected ever develop serious illness- only around one in 150. In fact, about 80% of people infected will never know it, because they don’t have any symptoms at all! AND, the vast majority of mosquitos are NOT infected to begin with, so most mosquito bites are not potentially serious.

What are symptoms if you get them? Picture the flu- in the wrong season. WNV occurs most often in summer and early fall. Fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and possibly a rash make up the usual presentation. These symptoms a few days to a couple of weeks. The severe disease (remember, just one in 150 infected) starts the same way but progresses to seizures, disorientation, tremors, numbness, paralysis and potentially death.

Mosquitoes spread the West Nile Virus by feeding on infected birds and then biting humans. Symptoms show up within days to possibly two weeks of the bite. The bite itself does not look different than other mosquito bites.

Prevention is all about clothing and mosquito repellent. You already know if YOU are the “mosquito magnet” in your family or friends. I know I am! The only time my husband has been bitten by mosquitoes when I am nearby was when I was pregnant (guess the hormones that made me nauseated did the same for the mosquitoes…) I have bathed in Skin So Soft & every other “natural” repellent, but the only thing that works for me is a physical barrier (light weight hiking shirts) PLUS sprays with DEET. What else can you do? Make sure you eliminate any standing water (such as in buckets or children’s wagons or other toys) in your backyard, to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds. Use mosquito repellant that contain DEET or Picardin, or oil of eucalyptus. Finally, if you find a dead bird, do NOT touch it without gloves, and call your local health department to report it.

BOTTOM LINE: If you are a mosquito magnet, take some extra precautions this time of year if you are going to be outside from dusk to dawn, so you can avoid becoming infected with West Nile virus.

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