LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — In the peak of summer dealing with itchy mosquito bites can be irritating, but getting bit by a mosquito with West Nile Virus can cause more than temporary irritation. It can be life-threatening.
As of Tuesday, Arizona has had seven cases of the disease that involved the nervous system and five that did not, and one death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
WNV is now the most common cause of epidemic viral encephalitis in the United States, and will likely remain an important cause of neurological disease for the foreseeable future, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
The West Nile Virus was first isolated from a feverish adult woman in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, according to The Centers for Disease Control. In 1957 the virus was identified as the cause of severe human meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain) in elderly patients during an outbreak in Israel.
Furthermore it is known that mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds obtain the virus as well as spread the virus to other animals such as horses. Unfortunately, when a horse is infected the virus multiplies in the horse’s blood system causing its brain to be infected.
Although the virus has been around for quite some time, Marian Budnik, 56th Medical Group registered nurse, said there are no vaccines available for use in humans.
For now, the virus can either cause no symptoms or mild symptoms in healthy adults said Rachael Perkins-Garner, 56th MDG registered nurse.
“Symptoms include fever, headache and body aches,” she said. “Some will develop a rash and or swollen lymph nodes. In severe cases it may cause headaches, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis and sometimes death.”
Additionally the virus can result in a severe and sometimes fatal illness known as West Nile encephalitis, which is inflammation and/or swelling of the brain. The risk of developing this illness is 50 percent higher in individuals who are 50 years or older, Perkins-Garner said.
Even though there is not much that can be done to prevent the existence of the virus. The risk of getting the virus is lower than some may think.
Statistics show that a person is more likely to be killed by lightning or a drunk driver than by contracting the virus, Perkins-Garner said.
“Remember, not every mosquito bite means you are infected,” she said. “West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes that feed on infected birds, and is not transmitted directly between humans or between animals and humans.”
While those who stay indoors are the least at risk for contracting the virus, the CDC said there are ways to lower the risk of catching the virus even while outside.
The CDC recommends:
- Minimize free-standing water around the home. Mosquitoes breed in standing water so check for water in cans, buckets, drums or any other containers, and empty any unused swimming pool or water feature.
- Change water, at least twice a week in flower vases, bird baths, planters and pet water bowls to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
- Avoid outdoor activities around dawn or after dusk, because mosquitoes are most active at night.
- Use insect repellent containing DEET. Remember to follow manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the use of DEET with children.
- Wear clothing that covers both arms and legs then spray clothing with insect repellent.