Fight the Bite: Reduce your risk of West Nile virus by avoiding mosquito bites this summer


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

Yes, local mosquito abatement districts are surveying and treating for mosquitoes already this year. We’ve had a lot of rain showers this spring and that means standing water is abundant, serving as prime egg laying areas for mosquitoes. Now is a good time to go over the precautions you should take to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites and the potentially dangerous viruses they can bring.

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

In Idaho, the most common mosquito-borne infection is West Nile virus acquired from the bite of a contaminated mosquito. Last season in Idaho, West Nile virus was detected in 25 symptomatic people, eight horses or other mammals, three birds and there were positive tests of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus from 13 different counties. Fortunately, there were no human deaths.

Who might get sick?

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. Everyone bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus could get infected and some can become quite ill. 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 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 avoid mosquito bites?

Do your best to avoid mosquito bites, specifically between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. You can do the following things to reduce your chances of being bitten:

  • Cover up exposed skin when you’re outdoors and apply DEET or another EPA-approved insect repellent to 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. This includes changing 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.

WNV cycle graphic

A Closer Look at Your Health airs each Tuesday morning at 6:50 a.m. on KBOI Newsradio 670 in Boise; this is the transcript of the May 29, 2018 program. 


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