Mosquito abatement districts are surveying and treating for the pesky little blood-suckers earlier than usual because spring has been so mild. So now is a good time to go over the precautions you should take to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites. Zika virus has been in the news a lot lately, but in Idaho and the rest of the United States, we worry the most about mosquitoes transmitting West Nile virus. This early in the season, we’ve had no reports of West Nile in mosquitoes, humans or horses. Last season in Idaho, 13 people and four horses were infected in six counties. Fortunately, there were no deaths.
Who needs to be thinking about how to avoid West Nile virus?
Everyone who plans to be outside this summer and fall should be thinking about how to avoid mosquito bites. The virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. We tend to see the most human illnesses from the virus in July and August, but that could change this year since the weather warmed up so quickly.
Who might get sick?
Everyone bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus could get infected. About 80 percent of people infected with the virus don’t feel sick, but 20 percent can suffer everything from mild to severe illness, and even death. The most serious form of the illness tends to develop in people older than 50 or those with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems. Even so, everyone who is bitten by mosquitoes can potentially get really sick. That’s why it’s so important to do whatever you can to avoid mosquito bites.
What are the symptoms?
There are two forms of illness associated with the virus; a relatively mild disease called West Nile fever, and a more serious form, called West Nile neuroinvasive disease. The most common symptoms associated with West Nile fever include headache, body aches, fever, sometimes a rash, and swollen glands. The symptoms may last for days or linger for months. For a very small number of people, serious illness infecting the brain or spinal cord can happen; this is the West Nile neuroinvasive disease. If you have severe symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor. There is no specific treatment for infection, but they can test you for the disease and manage your symptoms.
What can we do to prevent getting sick?
Do your best to avoid mosquito bites, specifically between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. You should:
- Cover up exposed skin when you’re outdoors and apply DEET or another EPA-approved insect repellent to any exposed skin and clothing. Be sure to follow instructions on the product label, especially for children.
- Repair or replace torn screens so insects can’t get inside.
- Get rid of standing water on your property because it provides mosquito habitat, and be sure to change the water in bird baths, decorative ponds and other water containers weekly.
- If you have horses, make sure they are vaccinated against the disease. The virus can be potentially deadly for them as well.