Tips for Protecting Yourself From West Nile

Annual mosquito surveillance has already begun, and although mosquitoes can be a nuisance there are more pressing reasons to protect yourself from these flying pests. Not only do their bites result in itchy, red bumps, they also have the potential to transmit West Nile virus. 

The first case of West Nile in the United States was in the New York City borough Queens in 1999.  Over the past decade, the number of yearly infections, and deaths, has steadily increased.  You might be wondering to yourself if that many cases of West Nile even present themselves each year, more people definitely get the flu each year.  While West Nile virus is usually found in other parts of the world such as Africa, the Middle East, India and parts of Asia, the virus is present in the United States as well. There are about 1,000 cases of West Nile virus reported in the United States each year. However, these numbers can vary.  So why are we so concerned about West Nile infections?

West Nile is a potentially serious illness that presents as a seasonal epidemic in North America from summer into fall.  Approximately 80% of all cases are asymptomatic, meaning that you may be infected with West Nile virus, but you don’t show any symptoms.  Up to 20% of all cases will develop mild flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, body aches, nausea, etc.  Only about 1 in 150 cases will present with severe illness including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, numbness and paralysis.

If you experience any of the symptoms of a severe illness, contact your physician immediately: serious West Nile infections may warrant hospitalization.  Keep in mind there is no reason to panic, just protect yourself.

West Nile is most often spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.  Thus, the best way to avoid infection is to minimize exposure to mosquitoes.  The best way to avoid West Nile infection is to:

·         make sure your insect repellent contains DEET

·         wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors.

·         avoid going out during dusk and dawn hours when mosquitos are most active

·         mosquitoes breed in standing water, so prevent their spread, empty any standing water from around your home.  These include flower pots, watering cans, pet dishes, bird baths, tire swings and children’s wading pools, just to name a few.