5 ways to protect yourself against West Nile

5 ways to protect yourself against West Nile

The first human case of West Nile virus this year was recently confirmed in Illinois.

The case, as reported from the Illinois Department of Public Health, shares that a man contracted the virus becoming ill and was hospitalized in late August.

This case has put a spotlight on a potentially very serious disease that is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Experts are urging not only local residents but also the nation to be aware of the virus and educate themselves on the signs and symptoms.

“The great majority of people infected with the West Nile virus will have minor symptoms such as a fever or headache, or they may experience no symptoms at all,” says Dr. James Richardson, an emergency department physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “But, around 1 percent of people who are infected will develop a serious, sometimes fatal, inflammation of the brain or spinal column.”

According to Dr. Richardson, there are no vaccines or specific antiviral treatments for infection of the virus. For those who are suffering from lesser symptoms, he says that no special tests or procedures are recommended, and pain relievers can be used to reduce fever and minor pain.

Symptoms of more serious neurologic illness involving the brain or nervous system include neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or even paralysis, he says. Those with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease are also at greater risk for serious illness.

The most effective way to avoid West Nile virus disease, says Dr. Richardson, is to prevent mosquito bites. He says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations are the place to start your prevention efforts.

  • Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Look for repellents whose labels contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants from dusk through dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors – when possible use your air conditioning.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home. Empty standing water from containers such as flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths.
  • Report dead birds to local authorities. Dead birds may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and the mosquitoes in an area. By reporting dead birds to state and local health departments, you can play an important role in monitoring West Nile virus. State and local agencies have different policies for collecting and testing birds, so check with your state health department to find information about reporting dead birds in your area.

Dr. Richardson urges anyone who believes they may be suffering from symptoms of the virus to consult their physician.

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About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.