Close up of mosquito on hand with green background.

West Nile Virus: What you should know

Emily Nicholson

With all of the rains and flooding this summer and fall in areas across the United States, there are concerns about an increase in the mosquito population. Mosquitoes can use just a thimble full of water to lay eggs and breed. All of that excess water leads to more breeding grounds and more mosquitoes. One of the most frightening and headline-grabbing diseases vectored through mosquitoes is the West Nile Virus.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at recent West Nile reportings and the most common questions about West Nile Virus such as ‘What is it?’, ‘How dangerous is it?’, and ‘What are the symptoms?’. If you have any concerns about mosquito bites you have received, contact your doctor immediately. This article, in no way, should be used to self-diagnose any illness.

Are mosquitoes taking over your backyard? Contact us today.

Close up of mosquito on hand with green background.

West Nile Virus on the rise in 2021

Though this virus is not discussed often, it is still very prevalent throughout the majority of the states in the US. As of November 2, 2021, the CDC released preliminary data showing a total of 1,334 West Nile cases reported compared to a total of only 664 in 2020 (and we still have two months left in 2021). Out of the 1,334 cases reported in 2021, 70% were classified as neuroinvasive disease (meningitis or encephalitis) and 30% were considered to be non-neuroinvasive disease. 

This interactive map shows the total number of cases per area per state. As of November 2021, Vermont is listed as the only state without any West Nile Virus reports. Five states, including Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, and West Virginia only reported nonhuman West Nile Virus activity. Nonhuman West Nile Virus activity includes infections in mosquitoes, birds, or sentinel animals and veterinary cases.

The remaining 42 states (not including Alaska or Hawaii) all have had West Nile Virus human infections in 2021. There have been 88 total deaths, with Arizona reporting 39 of those deaths. In 2020, there were only 52 total deaths and Texas reported the highest death total at 20.

Map of the United States shaded in two different colors of green to show 2021 West Nile Virus reports.

How does West Nile spread?

So with all these stats, you may be wondering, “How is this virus spreading?” There is one major vector of the spread of West Nile – mosquitoes. Surprisingly, the virus does not actually start with the mosquito but comes from some other animal that the mosquito has bitten. For example, West Nile is most often found in birds. If a mosquito were to consume blood from an infected bird, the virus would then be in the mosquito’s system. When the mosquito bites a human, it could transmit the virus to the human when it deposits the fluid used to feed.

Once a person has been infected by the West Nile virus, there is a slight possibility of transmitting it to someone else, but it is very difficult. Most of the human-to-human transmission would be in a laboratory setting, such as handling blood that contains the virus. Blood transfusions, breastfeeding, organ transplants, or from mother to fetus are all ways the virus can be transmitted from human to human.

How soon do West Nile symptoms appear after being bitten?

You may not even realize that you’ve been bitten by an infected mosquito until itching starts. However, if you notice the telltale mosquito bite bumps, symptoms of West Nile-related illness can appear 2 – 15 days after being bitten.

Woman wearing a white tank top scratching a red mosquito bite on the back of her arm.

What are the symptoms of West Nile?

For the average, healthy, human being, the West Nile virus provides no symptoms. Most people will not get sick and not have any complications. However, this may not be the case for people with compromised immune systems such as the young or elderly or those with immune disorders or on medications that might also suppress the immune systems. A person who does show symptoms may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Rash

The concern is that less than 1% of the population might develop even more serious symptoms. These people can develop West Nile Fever (about 20%) with more serious flu-like symptoms. The truly dangerous illnesses include, but are not limited to:

  • West Nile encephalitis – a disorder that can attack the central nervous system and lead to a form of meningitis, which can be fatal. It can also damage sections of the brain.
  • West Nile meningitis – which is an illness that attacks the outer layer of the brain and the spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, headache and neck pain.
  • West Nile meningoencephalitis – a combination of encephalitis and meningitis. It causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord.
Person wearing white glove holding white medical vials labeled West Nile Virus with vials in the background.

It must be stressed that these are just three potential diseases and risks associated with West Nile. There are several other diagnosed and documented illnesses that can affect several systems within the body. Some of them can cause paralysis, either temporary or permanent. Others may be more like the flu and dissipate. There can be rashes, vomiting, severe headaches and neck stiffness. If one of the more serious illnesses manifests, it can lead to brain damage and nerve pain. In some rare cases, it can even become fatal. 

If you are bitten by a mosquito and begin to exhibit any signs listed above, it is best to check with a physician to be safe.

How do you prevent West Nile virus?

The best way to prevent West Nile is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito. Follow our mosquito-prevention tips below to lower your risk of being bit! 

  • Ensure all of your windows have screens and screens that are free of holes.
  • Keep doors closed during dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are most likely to be out feeding. Stay inside during those times, too.
  • If you have to go outside during dawn or dusk hours, wear long sleeves and long pants and cover as much of your skin as possible. Wear light-colored clothing, as well, as mosquitoes have been shown to avoid them.
  • Use mosquito repellents that contain DEET. There are some natural mosquito repellents as well, although their effectiveness can vary, and applying natural solutions may require more frequent applications than DEET.
  • Mosquitoes are very bad flyers. Even a simple fan on a porch or some other outdoor area can create enough wind that they will be unable to fly effectively and will likely find some other feeding ground. 
  • Make sure that all standing water is removed. Empty out water in flower pots, bowls, etc. If you have a pond or something in your yard, consider getting a water agitator. Agitating the water makes it impossible for the mosquitoes to lay their eggs.
  • Make sure that vegetation, grass, bushes, and other landscaping are kept trimmed and are not overgrown. Mosquitoes will often use these areas to rest during the day and then come out seeking the nearest possible blood meal. Removing those hiding places reduces the risk of bites.
Person wearing black shoes and socks spraying bug spray on their bare legs in the woods.

Ehrlich Pest Control can help prevent mosquitoes!

Of course, Ehrlich Pest Control mosquito specialists can provide you with a solution that will last for weeks and prevent mosquitoes around your property. We will also get rid of their larva to stop them from growing into full-grown mosquitoes. Your best bet is to contact Ehrlich today and get a free home pest inspection to start things off.

Finally, if you have concerns about any insect bites, seek medical attention immediately!

Emily Nicholson
Emily Nicholson

Emily Nicholson is a Digital Marketing Coordinator for Rentokil North America. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two dogs. She loves being outside - mountains or beach - and enjoys working out, walking her pups, and relaxing with her husband, friends, and family.

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