Dr. Richard Bradley, chief of the Division of Emergency and Disaster Medicine, answers questions about the outbreak of West Nile Virus. Thus far in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 1,000 cases of West Nile virus, and Texas health officials have declared a public health emergency. It is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected bird and subsequently bites a human.
Q: How do I know if I have the West Nile virus?
A: Most people who become infected with West Nile virus don’t have major symptoms and may only have a temporary fever. About one person out of every 150 who are infected develop a severe disease called West Nile encephalitis, or West Nile meningitis. This is an inflammation of the brain, or the covering of the brain. These symptoms include headache, high fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, convulsions, and coma. The symptoms may last several weeks and nerve damage may be permanent.
Q: Who is at the greatest risk for getting West Nile virus?
A: Everyone can be at risk, but the greatest risk is in those who are over age 50, and particularly in those who have received a solid organ transplant, such as a kidney, lung, or heart transplant.
Q: How is West Nile treated?
A: West Nile is a virus—there is no treatment. Doctors can treat the symptoms, but West Nile can’t be cured. So, the most important thing is to prevent infection.
Q: How can I prevent West Nile virus?
A: Here are some suggestions.
- Prevention includes mosquito control programs and personal protection measures to reduce the likelihood of being bitten by infected mosquitoes.
- Community spraying programs are also important. The chemicals used to do aerial spraying do not pose any threat to your health.
- When you are outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. Look for a repellant with at least 20 percent DEET. This should give you protection for at least five hours.
- DEET is safe for children 2 months of age and older. If you have to take children under 2 months of age outdoors, a light coating of baby oil on their exposed skin may be helpful.
- Mosquitoes can lay their eggs in very shallow standing water. To reduce the risk from diseases caused by mosquitoes, drain standing water and check around your home every week for water in buckets, cans, pool covers, stored tires, and flower pots.
- Clean pet water bowls, bird baths, and water fountains weekly.
- Make certain that your rain gutters aren’t clogged and make sure wells or stored water are covered.
- Mosquito-control items that are designed to protect an area, such as sprays, candles, or machines, should only be considered supplemental to products used on your skin.
— Jade Waddy, Office of Advancement, Media Relations