Wet spring may mean higher mosquito-borne virus risk – Fight the bite!

WNVLogo2007It seems like it’s just starting to warm up and feel like spring, so is it mosquito season already?

Mosquito abatement districts are surveying and treating for mosquitoes earlier than usual this year because spring has been so wet and there has been widespread flooding across Idaho. Now is a good time to go over the precautions you should take to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.

Other than an itchy bite mark, what’s the risk of getting bit by a mosquito?

Zika virus has been in the news a lot, 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, West Nile virus was detected in nine symptomatic people, 10 horses, and a multitude of mosquitoes located across fifteen different counties. Fortunately, there were no deaths.

Who needs to be thinking about how to avoid West Nile virus?

CulexWNileWest Nile virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Everyone who plans to be outside this summer and fall should be thinking about how to avoid mosquito bites. We tend to see the most human illnesses from the virus in July and August, but every year is unique. Mosquitoes are already being detected in high numbers in some parts of the state because standing water in flooded areas provides ample opportunity for mosquitoes to lay their eggs and hatch. More mosquitoes bring more risk for infection.

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 very 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 what happens with 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 medically manage your symptoms.

What can we do to prevent getting infected?

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 your home.
  • 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.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs each Tuesday at 6:50 a.m. MDT on News Radio KBOI 670 AM in Boise. This is an extended version of the episode that aired May 16. 

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