Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Health Care and West Nile Virus

"Summer time, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high." --cool words from a great American song by lyricist and songwriter George Gershwin. The days of summer are fast approaching, and with them are the good times that families, especially kids, look forward to and celebrate. But with the heat, also comes the mosquitoes that often swarm, and bite, and carry disease. For the most part, people are immune to the majority of "bugs" carried by these flying bugs. One of those illnesses is the West Nile Virus. If you are planning to spend a great deal of time outdoors during the summer, you should know how this disease affects people who get it. Longer days and warmer nights mean more outdoor activities for you and your family, according to It can also mean more chances of being bitten by mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

West Nile virus is a disease spread by mosquitos, according to the CDC. The condition ranges from mild to severe. West Nile virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda in eastern Africa. It was first discovered in the United States in the summer of 1999 in New York. Since then, the virus has spread throughout the United States. The West Nile virus is a type of virus known as a flavivirus. Researchers believe West Nile virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then bites a person. Mosquitos carry the highest amounts of virus in the early fall, which is why the rate of the disease increases in late August to early September. The risk of disease decreases as the weather becomes colder and mosquitos die off.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, although many people are bitten by mosquitos that carry West Nile virus, most do not know they've been exposed. Few people develop severe disease or even notice any symptoms at all. Mild, flu-like illness is often called West Nile fever. More severe forms of disease, which can be life threatening, may be called West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis, depending on what part of the body is affected. Risk factors for developing a more severe form of West Nile virus include:
--Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, organ transplants, and recent chemotherapy.
--Older age.
--West Nile virus may also be spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. It is possible for an infected mother to spread the virus to her child through breast milk. More info about individual state notices can be found at this CDC site:

Most people infected with the West Nile virus have no signs or symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. About 20 percent of people develop a mild infection called West Nile fever. Common signs and symptoms of West Nile fever include:
--Body aches.
--Skin rash (occasionally).
--Swollen lymph glands (occasionally).
--Eye pain (occasionally).

In less than 1 percent of infected people, according to the Mayo Clinic, the virus causes a serious neurological infection. Such infection may include inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or of the brain and surrounding membranes (meningoencephalitis). Serious infection may also include infection and inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), inflammation of the spinal cord (West Nile poliomyelitis) and acute flaccid paralysis — a sudden weakness in your arms, legs or breathing muscles. Signs and symptoms of these diseases include:
--High fever.
--Severe headache.
--Stiff neck.
--Disorientation or confusion.
--Stupor or coma.
--Tremors or muscle jerking.
--Lack of coordination.
--Partial paralysis or sudden weakness.
Signs and symptoms of West Nile fever usually last a few days, but sign and symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis can linger for weeks, and certain neurological effects, such as muscle weakness, may be permanent. Mild symptoms of West Nile fever usually resolve on their own. If you experience signs or symptoms of serious infection, such as severe headaches, a stiff neck or an altered mental state, seek medical attention right away. A serious West Nile virus infection generally requires hospitalization.

According to, if you have a fever and headache that continue for more than 2 or 3 days during West Nile virus season, or if you have any of the more severe symptoms of West Nile encephalitis, call your doctor immediately. If your doctor determines that you have a mild infection, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. You may feel well enough to continue your normal activities. Talk to your doctor about whether you need to stay home. You can take steps to lower your risk of mosquito bites:
--Stay indoors at dawn, at dusk, and in the early evening, when mosquitoes are most active.
--Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors and are likely to be where mosquitoes are.
--Avoid wearing floral fragrances from perfumes, soaps, hair care products, and lotions. These may attract mosquitoes.
--Spray clothing with an insect repellent containing permethrin or DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), because mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. DEET can damage plastic items, such as watch crystals or eyeglass frames, and some synthetic fabrics. You also can use natural products such as soybean-based Bite Blocker.
--Apply insect repellent sparingly to exposed skin. An effective repellent will contain 24% DEET. DEET in concentrations greater than 50% does not provide any additional protection. Avoid applying repellent to the hands of children. Repellents may irritate the eyes and mouth. Plus, whenever you use an insecticide or insect repellent, be sure to read and follow the directions for use.
--Do not keep open containers of water near your house. Standing water is a breeding place for mosquitoes.
--Vitamin B and ultrasonic or ultraviolet (UV) devices such as "bug zappers" are not effective in preventing mosquito bites.

According to, call your state or local health department if you find a dead bird. Also, you should consider the following suggestions:
--Call your state or local government if you have additional questions about West Nile Virus.
--Call the American Mosquito Control Association at 1-732-932-0667.
--Call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378.

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of West Nile virus infection, especially if you may have had contact with mosquitos. According to, if you are severely ill, go to an emergency room. If you have been bitten by an infected mosquito, there is no treatment to avoid getting West Nile virus infection. People in good general health generally do not develop a serious illness, even if they are bitten by an infected mosquito.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.


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