Avoiding The West Nile Virus

A mosquito can be one of the carriers of the West Nile Virus. (Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim)

Most mosquito bites are only an itchy nuisance, but some can lead to West Nile disease, a potentially serious illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this summer and fall are shaping up to be the worst West Nile outbreak ever recorded in the U.S. Fortunately, most bites do not lead to West Nile, and there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

A bite from an infected mosquito is the most common form of West Nile transmission to humans.

Mosquitos pick up the virus from feeding on infected birds. If you notice dead birds in your area, contact local health officials since it may indicate West Nile is present in your community. West Nile does not spread from person to person through casual contact, so you cannot “catch” it from someone that is infected by a mosquito bite.

Cases of West Nile spike in the summer and linger into the fall season.

Although most individuals do not become ill after a mosquito bite, West Nile can become serious. Eighty percent of individuals have no symptoms of West Nile while up to 20 percent will have mild symptoms for a few days such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea and vomiting. Occasionally, individuals with milder symptoms may experience swollen glands or notice a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

Rarely, less than 1 percent (1 person out 150) will develop more serious symptoms, such as high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.

These symptoms may last several weeks, and may result in lasting neurologic effects.

Contact your healthcare provider if you think you have symptoms associated with West Nile, particularly if you are 50 or older or pregnant and nursing. Anyone experiencing serious symptoms should seek medical care.

The best way to lower your risk of West Nile is to avoid mosquito bites. Here are some tips to protect yourself and control local mosquito habitats:

  • Use insect repellent with an active ingredient recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Take extra care at dusk and dawn when mosquitos are often most active – wear repellent, long sleeve clothing or limit outdoor activities.
  • Protect your homes with good screens on your windows.
  • Avoid standing water in things like flowerpots, pet dishes, birdbaths, buckets and old tires, which are breeding grounds for mosquitos. Change the water in these containers weekly. Empty children’s wading pools when not in use and empty tire swings manually or by drilling holes in them.

Now that you know how to protect yourself and your family from mosquitos, get back to summer fun and fall outdoor activities. To learn more visit the CDC.

Brig. Gen. W. Bryan Gamble
Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity


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