West Nile Virus is usually associated with the summer months when mosquitoes are out in force. With the recent Hurricane Isaac and the accompanying storms, mosquitoes are breeding at a rapid rate and West Nile is a growing concern. Health officials report record numbers of West Nile virus this year, with 3142 cases, and 134 deaths as of September 18th. Cases will continue into October. Lyle Petersen, Director of the Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier in September, “This is the highest number of cases reported to CDC through the first week in September since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States.”
West Nile virus is one of those diseases we have not heard much about unless you have lived in an area of the country where there are cases each year. This year the virus has become a serious concern in many areas, especially in Texas, which has been home to 40% of all cases this year. West Nile is an infectious disease. It’s not considered to be contagious: the virus isn’t transmitted from person to person except in rare instances. The bite of an infected mosquito is the common form of transmission.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with West Nile virus have no symptoms, and about 20 percent experience only mild symptoms, such as a fever, headache, body ache, and fatigue, that go away on their own. The virus, when more severe, crosses the blood-brain barrier and causes a serious neurological infection that affects the brain and spinal cord.
There are ways to help avoid West Nile by taking some simple precautions now:
Remove mosquito habitat:
- Eliminate standing water in rain gutters, buckets, plastic covers, toys, dishes under your outdoor plants, or any other container where mosquitoes can breed.
- Remove piles of dead leaves and grass clippings.
- Empty and change the water in birdbaths, fountains, wading pools, rain barrels, and potted plant trays at least once a week to destroy potential mosquito habitats.
- Fill low spots where water pools, with dirt.
- Check for rotting spots in trees, a favorite breeding ground.
- Keep swimming pool, fountain and pond water treated and circulating.
Prevent your exposure to mosquitoes:
- Use mosquito repellents following label directions and precaution.
- Use head nets, long sleeves and long pants if you enter into areas with high mosquito populations.
- Tie a dryer sheet to your belt loop when outside. It will help to repel mosquitoes.
- Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts outside when possible.
- If there is a mosquito-borne disease warning in effect, stay inside during the evening when mosquitoes are active. Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, so consider staying indoors during those times or be extra careful if you go outside.
- Repair window and door screens making them “bug proof.”
- Replace your outdoor white lights with yellow lights, which tend to attract less mosquitoes. These lights are not repellents.
- Report dead birds to authorities. Never handle dead birds. Remember mosquitoes spread West Nile by feeding on dead birds or infected humans.
- If you suspect you may have contracted West Nile visit your doctor immediately.
Dealing with West Nile Virus is not a skill to put away at the end of the mosquito season. It will return again year after year, so long as there are birds and mosquitoes.
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