Warm evenings outdoors are an enjoyable way to wrap up the day. But remember, it’s also prime time for mosquitoes to make contact. The first positive sample of West Nile Virus has been detected in northern Nevada and our expert and the Washoe County Health District weigh in on what you need to know about the virus and how you can protect yourself. You can also learn more with Channel 2’s Ask the Doctor.
You know how the story goes: You’re outside in the garden, at the barbecue or walking the dog when your ankle or back of your arm begins to itch. The telltale red bump says it all — you’ve been bitten by a mosquito. While most bites are nothing more than irritating and itchy, there are some times of the year when you should be more cautious about bites.
And this is typically one of those times when West Nile Virus — a virus passed from infected birds to biting mosquitoes — begins to show up in our region.
The first positive identification of West Nile Virus in mosquitoes has been reported in the Lemmon Valley area, according to Washoe County Health officials. The health district has said in a statement it will increase insecticide fogging in the vicinity as well as continue extensive surveillance of mosquito activity.
Should You Be Concerned About West Nile Virus?
The disease rates are low in Nevada, but even if you are infected with the virus, there’s a likelihood you wouldn’t even know it.
“The symptoms of West Nile Virus are variable and 75 percent of people infected will have no symptoms at all,” says Brion Hill, MD, Renown Urgent Care. “One quarter of people infected will develop a flu-like illness characterized by fever, headache, fatigue, muscle ache and occasionally rash.”
According to Dr. Hill, symptoms generally appear anywhere from two days to two weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. While the flu-like illness commonly goes away on its own, West Nile Virus can be fatal or permanently disabling for a rare few.
“One in 230 of people infected will develop a neuroinvasive disease with symptoms including severe headache and signs of meningitis along with mental status change, weakness and paralysis,” Dr. Hill says.
Most Common Times for Mosquito Bites and West Nile Virus Carriers
Did you know your chances of getting bitten by an infected mosquito are higher in the evening than in the daytime?
“Daytime-biting mosquito species are certainly more aggressive,” says Jeff Jeppson, vector borne disease specialist with the health district. “They are strong fliers and you will likely notice them biting you, but they are less likely to carry West Nile Virus.”
The mosquito species that bite in the evening are gentler and people tend not to notice they are getting bit, Jeppson says. These species are also more likely to carry the infection.
As the summer progresses, the odds of a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus increase as the temperatures climb and the weather pattern is drier.
When Should You See a Doctor?
“Those who are concerned about infection due to mosquito bites during an outbreak do not require medical care or testing unless they become symptomatic,” Dr. Hill says.
He notes the severity of symptoms should dictate the level of care you seek. “Mild flu-like illness is best evaluated by a primary care or urgent care provider. The provider will discuss the list of possible causes for your illness and determine if testing is necessary based on severity of illness and risk factors including age, pregnancy, and immune status,” he says. “The provider will also determine if you need a higher level of care and plan for follow-up if indicated.”
There is currently no treatment or vaccine for West Nile Virus.
Dr. Hill cautions that if you or a family member has a change in level of consciousness, mental status, severe muscle weakness, paralysis, severe headache or stiff neck in an area West Nile Virus has been discovered or is suspected, emergency medical services should be sought.
How To Protect Yourself Against Bites and the Virus
The Health District’s Vector-Borne Disease Prevention Program offers these tips:
- Limit early morning and evening outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most active.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors for long periods of time.
- Avoid perfumes and colognes when outdoors for extended periods of time.
- Repair window screens if needed and make sure window and door screens remain closed.
- Clear standing water around the house that could be mosquito breeding-grounds, including small puddles, pools, planters, sandboxes, toys, or around faucets and pet bowls.
Insect Repellent Guidelines
- Wear a mosquito repellent outdoors containing 20 to 30 percent DEET for adults.
- DEET can be used safely on children and infants 2 months of age and older, but should be limited to 10 percent and applied by adults.
- If you’re concerned about using DEET on your child, other popular brands offer DEET-free insect repellents, including Coleman, Burt’s Bees and OFF!
- You can also use repellents containing picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535.
- Spray repellent on your hands and then apply to your face.
- Only apply repellent to exposed skin and clothing.
- Do not use repellent under clothing.
- Wash treated clothes before wearing them again.
- Do not apply repellent over cuts, wounds or sunburned or irritated skin.
Can Your Pet Contact West Nile Virus?
Dogs and cats can get West Nile Virus, but Jeppson says horses are a bigger worry.
“Horses are very susceptible to West Nile Virus,” he says. “Make sure that your horses are up-to-date on their vaccines, which help protect against West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Western Equine Encephalitis.”
Unfortunately, vaccines are not available for your other pets. Talk to your veterinarian about possible insect repellents that are safe for your animals. DEET should not be used on cats and dogs.
If you would like to report mosquito activity to the Health District, call (775) 785-4599. You can also call for help with preventing or alleviating a mosquito problem on your property.
The Health District also provides mosquito fish free of charge to people in Washoe County which are good for backyard ponds and horse troughs.