A mosquito feeding on a human

West Nile Virus: What you should know


Anopheles Mosquito Transmits Malaria

With all of the rains and flooding this summer 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.

What is the West Nile virus? How dangerous is it? What are the symptoms? These are all common questions asked by people who contact Ehrlich for mosquito control services. In this article, we take a look at West Nile Virus.

If you have any concerns about mosquito bites you have received, contact your doctor immediately and this article, in no way, should be used to self-diagnose any illness.

Click on the above image to download a full infographic about mosquito bites.
Click on the above image to download a full infographic about mosquito bites.

The History of West Nile Virus

What we now refer to as West Nile was first identified by doctors and scientist in 1937. It got its name because it was discovered in the West Nile region of Uganda in that year. Of course, the virus itself existed long before it was discovered and named, but it was not considered a problem for humans. Even when it was discovered and given its name in 1937, it was still considered a minor issue for humans until a sudden outbreak happened in the country of Algeria in 1994.

Not long after that, there was a break of West Nile related illnesses in the country of Romania in 1996. It first appeared in the U.S. in New York City in 1999. These days West Nile has spread across the globe and become an international problem.

How does West Nile spread?

Aedes Mosquito carries dengue

There is one major vector of the spread of West Nile – mosquitoes. The way that works is a little complicated. The virus does not start with the mosquito, but 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 them bit 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 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, breast feeding, organ transplants or from mother to fetus are all ways the virus can be transmitted from human-to-human.

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, 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 the less than 1% of the population that 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.

It must be stressed that these are just three of 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. If you are bitten by a mosquito and begin to exhibit any signs of a cold or flu, it is best to check with a physician to be safe.

What are some West Nile virus complications?

The complications for West Nile are many and varied. As listed above, there are several potential illnesses that can go with an infection of West Nile. That’s why any symptoms of West Nile-related illnesses should be treated by a doctor right away.

People infected can have complications as simple as flu-like symptoms, but they can also become paralyzed. 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. It some rare cases, it can even become fatal.

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.

What are some West Nile virus treatments?

The treatments for West Nile virus are wide and varied. As you can see from the long list of symptoms and the long list of potential illnesses that can result from West Nile, it is impossible to say which treatment might be best for you or someone you know who has been infected.

If you or anyone in your family begins to exhibit signs of flu-like symptoms 2-15 days after being bitten by one or more mosquitoes, it is best to consult a physician immediately. Given the risk factors, it is too risky not to contact a doctor. A trained physician will provide a course of treatment for your individual case. Do not attempt to treat symptoms or illnesses associated with any mosquito bite or West Nile on your own.

How do you prevent West Nile virus?

The best way to prevent West Nile is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito. This includes: ensuring that all of your windows have screens and screens that are free of holes. Keep doors closed during dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are mostly like to be out feeding. Stay inside during those times, too.

  • Ensuring that 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, which you can see listed here, 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. There are also citronella candles and other things that can be used to repel mosquitoes.
  • 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 and that can prevent an infestation before it even starts.
  • Make sure that vegetation, grass, bushes and other landscaping are kept trim and neat and 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.

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!

Ashley Smith

Ashley is a Digital Content Manager with Rentokil. She loves drinking coffee and spending time with her dogs.

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