Steps to Help Prevent West Nile Virus
Earlier this month, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the United States is experiencing its largest surge in the West Nile virus since 2004, with more than 1,590 confirmed and probable cases in 47 states. So far this year, 66 people have died from the virus as of the time this article was written.
It’s important to note that 80 percent of those infected with WNV will not show any symptoms and will recover without treatment. Up to 20 percent will experience flu-like symptoms, including head and body aches, nausea and vomiting, fever and occasionally swollen lymph glands and skin rashes.
According to the CDC, one in 150 will become seriously ill, with symptoms including high fever, headache, disorientation, tremors, neck stiffness and muscle weakness. In the most severe cases, victims will experience convulsions, vision loss, stupor, numbness and paralysis. Among this group, the disease can be fatal.
Although the virus can spread through transplants, transfusions, pregnancy and possibly breastfeeding, the vast majority of victims are infected by the bite of an infected mosquito.
So, what can you do to reduce your risk and that of your family? There are two key strategies to keep in mind: Avoid exposure to mosquitoes and eliminate mosquito-breeding sites on your property.
How to Protect Yourself
- Avoid spending time outdoors at dawn, dusk and early evening, when mosquitoes are most active.
- If you are going to be outdoors at those times, or if you’re going to be spending time in an area known for mosquitoes, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Ensure that your children do the same.
- Use mosquito repellent with DEET, and apply it to both your skin and clothing. Keep it off children’s hands, so they don’t inadvertently put it into their mouths or eyes, and never use on children under the age of 2. Remember: The higher the percentage of the active ingredient, the longer it will work.
- If you are outdoors with an infant or very young toddler, use mosquito netting over the child’s stroller or playpen.
- Make sure you have good screens on all windows and doors, and keep an eye on those coming and going so no one accidentally leaves a door standing open.
- If you have a pet door, make sure it has a hardy flap in place, and check it frequently to ensure it remains in good condition. If it’s showing signs of wear or if the seal is no longer secure, replace the flap.
West Nile Prevention on Your Property
Although you won’t be able to keep mosquitoes off your property, you can eliminate standing water, where mosquitoes breed, to keep the population down:
- Check and unclog your gutters often.
- If you have birdbaths, change the water frequently — once per week at a minimum.
- Empty outdoor pet dishes frequently. Don’t allow water to stand in a pet’s bowl for days on end.
- Empty unused swimming pools; this includes popular baby and toddler wading pools. Store them on their sides or upside-down when not being used.
- Do you have any containers or children’s playthings that can hold water? These also are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Eliminate them, or empty them out immediately after a rainfall. If your kids have a tire swing, drill a hole in the bottom so the water drains out. If they have a sand-and-water table or box, empty or change the water frequently.
Seek Help if You Experience Serious Symptoms
Although preventative measures can’t guarantee that you won’t become infected with West Nile, these steps can help minimize your risk. If you or your loved ones are bitten, however, keep an eye on each other. If your partner or child begins complaining of more serious symptoms, or if you observe such symptoms, seek medical attention.