With all the media attention on Zika lately, not many people are discussing (or are concerned with) West Nile Virus. This disease is still around and may become a concern later this summer due to the hot, dry conditions we are currently experiencing in Central Texas.
Cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) are generally seen in summer and increase throughout summer and into fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most people (70-80%) that become infected with WNV show no symptoms. About 1 in 5 people develop a fever or other symptoms such as headache, body aches, vomiting or diarrhea; this is called West Nile fever. Less than 1% of the people infected develop serious neurological illness such as encephalitis (inflammation/ swelling of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation/ swelling of the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord); this is called West Nile neuroinvasive disease.
West Nile is generally transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become carriers by feeding on infected birds and can then transmit the virus to other animals, including humans. Multiple species of mosquitoes have been found carrying West Nile Virus, but it is predominately transmitted by Culex mosquitoes. Unfortunately the Southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, is fairly common here and is many times found coming into homes (hence it’s common name).
WNV can also be transmitted through blood transfusions, transplants and mother to child via pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is NOT spread through touching or kissing.
People over 50 are at a higher risk to get severe illness, so they should take care to avoid mosquito bites. If someone spends a lot of time outdoors, they are more likely to be bitten and should pay attention while outside and try to avoid mosquito bites.
Tips for avoiding mosquito bites:
- Stay indoors during peak mosquito hours*- dawn & dusk
- *please note that some Aedes mosquitoes are day time feeders while some Culex are night time feeders in addition to being active at dusk and dawn, so precaution should be taken whenever outside
- Eliminate standing water
- Dispose of old tires or cover them with a tarp to keep off rain
- Clean out gutters and downspouts
- Bird baths, pet water dishes, etc. should be emptied and refilled twice a week
- Store containers so they do not hold water
- Keep grass mowed to a proper length & vegetation trimmed (mosquitoes like to rest in thick vegetation)
- Repair leaky faucets or A/C lines that produce condensate
- In permanent standing water areas, use things like mosquito fish or Bt israelensis (dunks)
- Keep window screens in good repair
- Use repellents when going outside (follow label instructions).
For a map of West Nile cases in Texas click here.