Summer is under way, which means it’s time for barbecues, pool parties and beach days. Before you lounge outside from sunup to sundown, remember to take preventive measures against mosquito bites, especially as we dive further into summer. In fact, most West Nile virus cases are reported from June to September.
Because winter was mild, the rains have been plentiful and the weather is starting to get hot, mosquitos are out in full force. This means it is likely that we will see more than a handful of West Nile cases this year, which is why it’s important that you know what to look for.
What You Need to Know About West Nile Virus
West Nile virus is a potentially fatal bloodborne virus that is typically transmitted through infected mosquitoes.
Symptoms can show up between two and 14 days after the initial mosquito bite. The virus can cause fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, rash and, in rarer cases, neurological problems such as encephalitis or meningitis. The neurological problems can in turn cause headaches, high fevers, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis.
It’s important to remember that while these symptoms can be frightening, very few people, typically less than 1 percent, ever experience these serious symptoms. In fact, 70-80 percent of people who become infected with West Nile never develop symptoms. One-in-5 people can develop less severe symptoms, and these patients usually recover completely.
If you have any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to see your physician as soon as possible.
Who the Virus Affects
West Nile virus can affect anyone, but more serious cases of the disease tend to happen in those with compromised or under-developed immune systems. This means children, the elderly and patients with cancer, diabetes or kidney disease are at a greater risk. Special precautions should be taken with people who fall into any of these categories to prevent a potential West Nile case.
How to Avoid It
The best way to avoid West Nile is to avoid being around mosquitoes altogether, but this just isn’t a practical solution for those of us living in the Lone Star State. Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of coming in contact with mosquitoes that might be carrying West Nile:
- While mosquitoes are active all day, they become more active at dusk and that activity continues through the night. Try to avoid being outside from dusk and beyond.
- Use an insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. These ingredients have been found to provide better, longer-lasting protection. Repellants with oils of lemon or eucalyptus have also been found to be effective, but they should also contain DEET.
- Wear long sleeves and pants at night.
- Don’t give them a breeding ground! Eliminate standing water from your yard, flowerpots, buckets, dog bowls, bird baths and anything else where water can collect.
Linda Ly, M.D., is a Family Medicine physician who cares for patients at Meyerland Plaza Clinic. Her clinical interests include preventative medicine, hypertension and diabetes.