If you haven’t heard, several mosquitos in Washoe County have tested positive for the West Nile Virus. RUN! HIDE IN YOUR HOMES!!!! Just kidding. But truly, let’s have a discussion about West Nile Virus and why it’s important.
West Nile Virus is a viral infection (i.e. antibiotics can’t cure it) that is transmitted most commonly by mosquito bites. The good news is that of those who are infected, only about 1 in 5, or 20%, will have any symptoms- which usually include fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea or rashes. Fatigue and weakness associated with this infection can last weeks to months.
The thing we worry most about is the less than 1% of those infected who can develop more severe, potentially life threatening symptoms, including encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). Symptoms of this include severe headaches, high fevers, confusion, seizures, paralysis, or even death in up to 10% of those who develop severe disease!
People more likely to develop severe disease are people over the age of 60, people who are on medications that lower their immune system response, or people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, or kidney disease.
What can you do to prevent West Nile Virus infection? There is no vaccination available for humans, and no treatment other than supportive care once someone is infected, so the real key is avoiding mosquito bites. Long sleeved clothing, avoiding being outside between dusk and dawn, using air conditioning instead of leaving the windows open, using screens in your windows and doors, cleaning out and avoiding any free standing water around your home, applying mosquito repellents when outside, as well as the importance of community mosquito abatement programs (which Washoe County is actively working on) are cornerstones to avoiding infection with West Nile Virus.
So don’t run and lock yourself away until the winter to avoid mosquitos. Follow some of the steps above to stay West Nile free!