West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus is a flavivirus, which can infect humans, birds, mosquitoes, horses and some other mammals. Originally found only in Africa, it has been in the United States for several years, causing illness and some deaths.

Most people (four out of five) infected with West Nile Virus will show no sysmptoms of illness. Approximately 20% of people who become infected will develop West Nile fever, with symptoms that may include fever, head and body aches, tiredness, swollen lympth glands and sometimes a skin rash. The most severe type of West Nile fever is sometimes called "neuroinvasive disease" because it affects a person's nervous system. Symptoms may include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, convulsions, paralysis, and coma. Only about one in a hundred-fifty people infected with the West Nile Virus will develop the severe form of the disease. While it can occur in anyone of any age, people over the age of 50 and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

People become infected by being bitten by an infected mosquito. The mosquitos become infected by feeding on infected birds. The virus gets into the mosquito's salivary glands and is injected into humans and animals when the mosquitos bite.

Preventing infection is very imporant and consists of avoiding being bitten by an infected mosquito. At this point, there is no vaccine against West Nile Virus.

Prevent mosquito bites:

  • Make sure window and door screens are "bug tight"
  • Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are the most active
  • Wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat when going into mosquito-infested areas, such as wetlands or woodlands
  • Consider using mosquito repellant products with the active ingredient "DEET"

Reduce mosquito breeding areas where you work or play:

  • Empty containers, such as wheelbarrows, tires and buckets that may hold standing water
  • Change water in birdbaths, fountains, wading pools and animal troughs weekly
  • Make sure roof gutters drain properly; clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall

West Nile Virus infects certain wild birds. Of those infected, crows, jays, ravens, magpies, and hawks tend to become sick and die. Increasing numbers of dead birds may be an indication of West Nile Virus in your community.