The United States is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of West Nile virus since the virus came into the country in 1999. As of August 21, 2012, the CDC reported 1,331 cases of human infection of the virus. Forty-eight states have reported cases of West Nile infection in humans, mosquitoes, and birds. The majority of cases are in Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and South Dakota. Texas has been the hardest hit with 19 deaths since August 21, 2012. In fact, Texas Judge Clay Jenkins has declared Dallas County a state of emergency.
West Nile infections peak in mid-August and continue through September. It takes three to 14 days for symptoms to show up, so final numbers for how many people total are infected will take a few more months. Since many of you are going to be spending the next few weekends outside celebrating the opening of dove season, it is important to educate yourself about West Nile virus and learn how to protect yourself and your family.
What is it?
West Nile virus was first identified in 1937, diagnosed in an adult female from the West Nile district of Uganda Africa. The virus came to America in 1999, starting in New York. Since then, 30,000 people have reported having West Nile virus. However, estimates puts that number over 50,000 people actually affected. Most mild cases go unreported and undetected.
Mosquitoes pass on the virus to humans and other animals after feeding on an infected bird. Over 200 species of birds carry West Nile virus. A mosquito, after feeding on an infected bird, can carry the virus for a few days, transferring into the mosquito’s spit. The virus passes onto the human when the mosquito injects the virus from a bite. There have been reports of West Nile virus passing from human to human through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding, and from pregnant mother to baby.
One to 500 mosquitoes have the virus and only one percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito will get severely sick. Eighty percent of people bitten will show no symptoms at all. Mild cases of West Nile virus share similar symptoms to the flu or other viral infections; fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands, and a rash on the chest, stomach, and back.
Severe symptoms lead to West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis, which is swelling of the brain. This can be fatal. Severe symptoms include the mild symptoms, plus neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, vision loss, muscle weakness, convulsions, numbness, and paralysis. Some of the neurological symptoms can be permanent. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
There is no set treatment, antibiotics, or vaccines for West Nile virus. Therefore, it is imperative you protect yourself from mosquito bites during our remaining summer and into fall.
West Nile virus will not pass from person to person or from pet to person. If an infected mosquito bites your cat or dog, it is more than likely they will not show any symptoms at all. Game meat is also safe, as long as you prepare it and cook properly.
Mosquitoes are most active during dawn and dusk. Avoid being outside at these times. If you must be outside during dawn or dusk, dress appropriately, wearing long sleeves, long pants, and covered shoes. You can spray your clothing with an insect repellant containing Permethrin. However, never spray a product containing Permethrin on your skin. You may also spray tents and other outdoor gear with the chemical. Sawyer Products makes one that lasts through six washes.
Whenever you are outside, spray on a product that contains DEET, Picaridin, Lemon Eucalyptus oil, or IR 3535. All of these chemicals are EPA-registered to fight against mosquitoes. A product that contains 30 percent or less of DEET is safe to use on children over two months old. Spray the bug spray on at least 15 minutes before going outside and no more than 20 minutes before going outside. If you wait to put on repellant after exposure, it might be too late. I like Repel’s Sportsmen Max formula that is 40 percent DEET. It has proven itself repeatedly in the field for me not only repelling mosquitoes, but chiggers as well.
If chemicals freak you out, Repel makes a DEET-free product containing lemon eucalyptus that lasts up to six hours. If you stand on the opposite side of the fence, there is 100 percent DEET products, but only use these products in an extremely highly infected area.
For camping, cookouts, and parties, I also really like mosquito coils. They smell like incense and burn for eight hours. ThermaCell’s lantern not only creates ambiance but also protects a 15 by 15 feet area for 4 hours.
Mosquito nets are perfect for sleeping cots or for baby strollers, beds, and bouncers. If you are hunting, purchase a camo ThermaCell mosquito repellent unit in Realtree APG camo. The unit is compact, with a quiet on/off button and provides a 15- by 15-foot area of protection. ThermaCell makes extra cartridges with an earth scent if you are worried about scaring off game.
A mosquito needs just the smallest amount of water to lay eggs, so periodically check your yard for standing water. Replace the water in birdbaths at least once a week and do not keep kiddie pools full. After use, dump the water out and keep the kiddie pool on its side so it does not gather any water. Old tires will also collect water, so discard them, or drill holes in tire swings to let water flow out.
People over 50 and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to getting severely ill with West Nile virus. Since birds carry West Nile, do not touch dead birds, unless you shot them. Use plastic gloves and a plastic bag while disposing of the bird.
Has your city been affected by the West Nile virus outbreak? How are you preventing and protecting yourself from mosquitoes? Tell me in the comments section. Click here to learn how to build your own mosquito trap.