West Nile Virus and Mosquitoes
Since 1999, West Nile Virus has been common in the United States. The disease is caused by a flavivirus that infects many species of birds and mosquitoes. The good news is, most mosquitoes do not carry West Nile Virus, and with proper mosquito control, you should be able to avoid the illness. Preventative measures should also always be taken when disposing of dead birds or other animals.
What Steps Should I Take to Avoid West Nile Virus?
Mosquitoes breed quickly, and lay their eggs in stagnant water and low lying areas where there is usually organic and decaying material (think compost heap, muddy puddles). Your goal should be to have a low, or non-existent population of mosquitoes in your backyard, and anywhere you and your children often hang out outside.
Look at your yard and get rid of any water receptacles such as discarded tires, crevices between planters, etc. If you can’t rid the area of standing water, you can treat it with an insecticide that targets the larvae of mosquitoes and thus eliminates breeding of mosquitoes in that area.
Cover pools tightly and shake off any water that collects on top of the cover. If you must keep bird baths, be sure to change the water every 2-3 days. Small plastic kiddie pools should be flipped over when not being used. Roof gutters may not be visible but can be active mosquito breeding grounds. Try to clean your roof gutters out at least once a year.
Keep mosquitoes out of your home as well. Repair any tears in your screened doors or windows. Don’t put flower pots – which you’ll be watering – right in front of your doors or windows.
From the end of May through the month of October, a mosquito’s activity hits its height and you will notice them zipping around and threatening you at every step outside. Mosquitoes love the evening when they are especially prevalent and blood thirsty.
Wear skin-covering clothing such as long pants, long sleeves and socks that cover the ankle between shoes and pants.
Do not sit in high grass or weeds. Don’t sit under big, bushy foliage, no matter how shady they may be. Limit your time on docks and other surfaces on top of water.
Use a mosquito repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Citronella candles are good for extra precaution outside. Both DEET and Picaridin are very effective at repelling mosquitoes and can be sprayed on your clothing and any skin that may be exposed.
How Would I Know if I Had West Nile Virus?
Most people who do contract West Nile Virus have very slight symptoms and recover with no medical intervention.
Symptoms resemble the flu. Watch for fatigue, fever and headache or stiff neck after a recent mosquito bite.
West Nile can progress to very serious health issues, such as viral encephalitis or viral meningitis. This is more apt to occur in immunocompromised individuals or those taking immunocompromising drugs.
The only way to diagnose West Nile Virus with certainty is through a spinal tap procedure.
Can’t I Just Get a Vaccine?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available to guard against West Nile Virus in humans. Luckily, by following a few common sense protocols, we can avoid mosquitoes and the virus; and enjoy a fun-filled summer.