How to Protect Yourself Against West Nile Virus

Posted on Oct 13th 2019 by Florida Blue

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Most bites from a mosquito will sting, leave a red bump, be itchy for a few days and then be forgotten.

But that rare mosquito can be infected with West Nile virus and pass it on to you. The majority of people with the virus don’t feel sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 20 percent have minor issues, including a fever. But, one in 150 infected people develop serious—and sometimes fatal—conditions, such as encephalitis and meningitis, the CDC said.

The disease also can be transmitted to animals, ranging from bats and birds to dogs and horses. Even alligators can be infected. And it all starts because a mosquito was feeding on an infected bird.

The best way to protect yourself from viruses spread by mosquitoes is through prevention, said Dr. Kelli Wells, Florida Blue’s senior medical director for medical affairs. She said the people at greatest risk are those with other illnesses and diseases.

Prevention steps include:

● Use repellant, especially at dawn and dusk in the summer and fall when mosquitoes tend to bite. Don’t forget to reapply. By the way, there’s also mosquito repellent for dogs and cats that are older than three months.

● Be vigilant about areas where water tends to stand, including flower pots, garbage cans, old tires, gutters and low areas in your yard.

● Clean birdbaths and pet water bowls a couple of times a week.

● Keep swimming pools properly chlorinated

● Wear light-colored clothing

A few confirmed cases of West Nile virus have been reported this year in Florida, including one in Duval County in mid-September. Last year, there were 35 West Nile virus cases in the state, according to the CDC. From 1999-2018, there were 402 cases reported in Florida.

The states with the most cases during that time period were: California: 6,801; Texas: 5,558; Colorado: 5,526; Nebraska: 3,972; Illinois: 2,634 and South Dakota: 2,602

Wells said the mosquito population is monitored a few ways across the nation. In Florida, several people in each county have sentinel chickens, whose blood is tested for the West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Health departments will notify residents in counties when there is an increase in disease activity in sentinel chickens, as happened in St. Johns County in early October.

The Florida Wildlife Commission automatically checks dead birds for mosquito-borne diseases. One of them is Eastern equine encephalitis, which the CDC says is a rare cause of brain infections. Nearly one-third of EEE victims die and many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems.

The agency said only a few EEE cases are reported in the U.S. each year, mostly in East Coast and Gulf Coast states, as well as the Great Lakes region. Florida’s 13 cases from 2009-18 are the most in the nation during that period.


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