Summer is on its way, which means campfires, marshmallows, and growing concerns about the West Nile virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 47 states reported West Nile virus infections.
Approximately 2,122 individuals contracted the disease, and some of these cases resulted in neuroinvasive conditions such as encephalitis, meningitis, or both.
In Illinois, 34 West Nile mosquito samples reported positive, 15 humans contracted the condition, and 2 residents died from the virus in 2014 alone.
What Is West Nile Virus?
West Nile virus is anthropod-borne virus (arbovirus). Although scientists first identified the virus in Uganda in 1937, the virus has since spread to many other areas of the world. In 1999, the US had its first major outbreak, and more than 1,700 people have died because of the condition since then.
Most people infected with the virus don’t notice or experience any signs or symptoms. Some individuals may experience a mild headache or fever, but often the symptoms go away on their own. According to Dr. Jorge Parada, infectious disease specialist at the Stritch School of Medicine, about 75% of West Nile victims don’t feel sick enough to seek medical attention.
However, some moderate cases of the disease can result in:
- Severe headache
- High fever
- Sudden weakness
- Body aches and joint pains
- Vomiting and diarrhea
And in more severe cases, individuals may experience encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). These conditions can trigger:
Recovery from more severe cases can take several weeks or months, and a few individuals have permanent neurologic effects.
How Does It Spread?
West Nile Virus most commonly spreads via infected mosquitos, which become infected when they feed on infected birds.
But in a small number of cases, the virus spreads through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Rarely, an infected mother can transfer the disease to the baby during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
What Can You Do to Prevent It?
Although West Nile virus symptoms and statistics sound frightening, keep in mind that the average mosquito does not have the virus. Additionally, some experts estimate that less than 1% of those infected with West Nile develop severe illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis.
People with certain medical conditions (diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, etc.) have a greater risk for experiencing more severe symptoms. But you can take steps to reduce your likelihood of catching the disease, including the following 1. Don’t Forget Insect Repellent
Since the condition spreads via mosquitos, applying insect repellant whenever you spend time outside can help keep you safe. Look for repellents with ingredients such as DEET, Picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
These chemicals can cause harmful side effects if you inhale or swallow the spray, so only apply the repellent as directed on the label. Wash the spray off your skin as soon as you go indoors again.
- Use Clothing to Cover Up
Short sleeves, t-shirts, and tank tops may provide some relieve from hot Chicago summers. But most experts recommend using clothing to cover up and reduce skin exposure to mosquitos. Some mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so wear heavy jeans and long sleeved jackets during peak mosquito biting hours (dusk to dawn).
- Install or Repair Screens
Your home should be a safe haven from insects, so do everything you can to keep mosquitoes outside. Repair or install screens on windows and doors. If you have air conditioning or fans, use them regularly. Mosquitoes become less active during cooler temperatures.
4. Cover Outdoor Playpens with Netting
Many doctors agree that you shouldn’t apply insect repellent on children younger than 2 years old. To protect them from mosquitoes when they play outdoors, cover any playpens or baby carriers with a fine mesh netting. If you wish, purchase playpens and cribs with mosquito netting already attached.
- Remove Any Standing Water
Mosquitoes need standing water to breed, and they can reproduce in any puddle or pool that lasts for more than four days. Removing standing water significantly reduces the number of mosquitoes buzzing around your home.
Pay close attention to the following, as these can easily collect water:
- Discarded metal cans, plastic containers, and ceramic pots
- Old replacement tires and trash cans
- Clogged roof gutters and downspouts
- Plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows
- Birdbaths and ornamental ponds
If you have a swimming pool, regularly clean it and check that it’s properly chlorinated. Water can also collect on top of pool covers, so siphon away the water with a garden hose as needed.
Call Pest Control
Because of the health risks mosquitoes pose, call an expert to help you eliminate any infestations you see on your yard or property. Pest control can also spot any potentially problematic areas that could harbor the insects in the future. Don’t hesitate to call in an expert if you worry about West Nile virus. Contact us today!