What You Need to Know About West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus

Warm summer evenings on the patio are an enjoyable way to wrap up the day, but recent news reports about mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile Virus might have you worried about spending time outdoors. We have an expert weigh in on what you need to know about the virus and how you can protect yourself. 

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.

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? Plus, as the summer progresses, the odds of a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus increase as the temperatures climb and the weather pattern is drier.

Now that we are in late summer, 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. In fact, the third positive identification of West Nile Virus in mosquitoes has been reported in Washoe County this summer. 

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.

“Only 20 percent of people develop symptoms,” says Rudy Tedja, DO, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Renown Health. “And while you shouldn’t be worried about West Nile Virus, it’s important to be aware that West Nile exists.”

What are the Symptoms of West Nile Virus?

Most people infected with West Nile Virus do not have symptoms. However, Dr. Tedja said if you do experience symptoms they would include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

“The symptoms could last for several weeks to more than a month,” says Dr. Tedja. “They typically appear from two to 14 days after being infected by the virus.”

He went on to explain only a very small proportion of the population will develop severe neurological symptoms that include confusion, seizures, coma and paralysis. These neurological symptoms can last for weeks or longer.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Anyone concerned about infection due to mosquito bites does not require medical care or testing unless they become symptomatic.

“You should see a doctor when your symptoms get worse,” says Dr. Tedja. “If you start to have neurological symptoms such as worsening headache, fever, confusion, seizures, coma, and paralysis, go to emergency department.”

There is currently no treatment or vaccine for West Nile Virus. 

How To Protect Yourself Against Bites and the Virus

“The best way to protect yourself is to prevent mosquito bites,” says Dr. Tedja. “If you are in an area with a lot of mosquitoes, use mosquito repellents, and wear long pants and long sleeves to minimize skin exposure. Eliminate any areas with standing water as these are where mosquitoes frequently lay eggs.”

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.

Report Mosquito Activity

If you would like to report mosquito activity to the Health District, call (775) 328-2434. 

We have Several Urgent Cares to Help you Get Care When you Need it

Providers at Renown Urgent Care see patients of all ages for minor illnesses and injuries:

  • Cuts
  • Fractures
  • Burns
  • Sprains
  • Fevers
  • Allergic reactions
  • Animal bites
  • Rashes
  • Sore throats

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