What You Need to Know About West Nile Virus This Summer

West Nile virus has its moments every summer and fall, and in recent weeks, many states have begun reporting their first human cases this season. Here’s what you need to know about this mosquito-borne disease.

Where is it?

As of July 24, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports people have contracted West Nile Virus in Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma … South Dakota and Texas. The disease is notifiable, which means that if your doctor diagnoses you, they will tell the state and CDC.

Historically, West Nile has been found in all 48 states of the continental United States. In addition to waiting to learn about human cases, some states are also testing mosquitoes or birds for the virus.

How bad is it?

Most people, about 80 percent, have no symptoms when they get the virus. For those who do show symptoms, the most common is fever, which may be accompanied by headaches, body aches, nausea, diarrhea, or a rash. However, these symptoms are common to many diseases, so if you get sick, you should definitely get tested.

In rare cases (less than one percent), infection can lead to dangerous inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes around the brain (meningitis). Even less often, it can be fatal. Symptoms include neck stiffness, disorientation, muscle weakness, and more. The CDC provides more information on symptoms here .

What can a doctor do?

When you ask for help, your healthcare provider can order a West Nile virus test. Since it is a virus, antibiotics will not help; there is no cure that can make the virus go away. But your doctor can help you get supportive care to cope with your illness, be it pain relievers for mild cases or hospitalization for rare, severe symptoms.

How can I prevent this?

West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes, so do not leave standing water around your yard. (Baby mosquitoes are aquatic animals, so they need ponds and puddles to breed, and a bucket you forgot about last fall.)

Prevent mosquito bites when you’re away from home, using a spray insect repellent: DEET or other spray on insect registered EPA, on your skin, and permethrin on your hiking boots and other outerwear. (Conveniently, this is the one or two punch that protects well against ticks .)

Screens and mosquito nets work too. For babies who are too young for insect spray (up to two months old), you can cover their stroller with a mosquito net.


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