For many years now West Nile Virus has been a reoccurring scourge in many parts of the world. Since the turn of the century, West Nile has infected around 31,000 Americans and killed thousands around the world. As we become more familiar with the disease, it is important to inform ourselves on West Nile Virus symptoms, get the pertinent facts about West Nile, and understand how the spread of West Nile Virus is connected to mosquitoes. West Nile Virus education is paramount in helping to prevent the further spread of this virus.

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne form of encephalitis, which results in an inflammation of the brain that can lead to death. Like other types of encephalitis, it cycles back and forth between mosquitoes and birds and is usually transmitted to mammals via mosquitoes. Livestock such as horses and cows are commonly infected, but domesticated animals like dogs and cats can also catch the disease. Humans may also catch West Nile in areas where there are large concentrations of infected mosquito populations.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus

How do you know if you have West Nile Virus? West Nile Virus symptoms can be difficult to diagnose because its initial symptoms are similar to the standard flu. West Nile usually has four distinct symptoms: fever, tiredness, headache, and aches or a rash. The virus may run its course in a few days, but it may also linger for several weeks. Most people who catch West Nile will not experience anything beyond this and the virus will pass within three days.

If the virus gets severe, symptoms may include high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease. Serious illness can occur in people of any age, however people over age 50 and some immunocompromised persons (for example, transplant patients) are at the highest risk for getting severely ill when infected with West Nile Virus.

Treatment for West Nile Virus

Most people who get infected with West Nile will recover on their own with no treatment needed. Most health care providers can test for West Nile and either confirm or deny the presence of the disease. The very young and the elderly are especially at risk and should be tested. In severe cases of West Nile, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, i.e., hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, airway management, ventilatory support (ventilator) if needed, prevention of secondary infections and proper nursing care. Various organizations are currently experimenting with other treatments for West Nile Virus.

History of West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus (WNV) was first discovered in 1937 in the African country of Uganda, though scientists believe that the virus has been around in various forms form over a thousand years. After its discovery in 1937, the virus remained contained in Africa.

In 1957 there was an outbreak of the disease in Israel, where it had come out of Egypt. A decade later it was starting to appear in horses and other livestock in Eastern Europe. By the end of the 1960’s it was common throughout Europe, Asia and Australia but had not made it to the western hemisphere.

The first outbreak of WNV in the west came in 1999 with reports of the virus infecting cats, dogs, horses and humans. There were outbreaks reported in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, and these outbreaks are when most Americans first heard of West Nile.

Since 1999 small outbreaks have occurred throughout the United States, and the media covered the West Nile Virus outbreak extensively in 2001-2002.

Number of Deaths from West Nile Virus in the United States

Since 1999 when WNV came to the United States, the Centers for Disease Control report the following statistics:

1999-2001:………….149 infections/18 deaths
2002:………………4,156 infections/284 deaths
2003:………………9,862 infections/264 deaths
2004:………………2,539 infections/100 deaths
2005:………………3,000 infections/119 deaths
2006:………………4,269 infections/177 deaths
2007:………………3,623 infections/124 deaths
2008:………………..236 infections/2 deaths
2009: ……………….663 infections/32 deaths
2010:………………1,021 infections/57 deaths
2011:……………….. 712 infections/43 deaths
2012:……………….5,674 infections/286 deaths
2013:……………….2,459 infections/119 deaths
2014:……………….2,122 infections/85 deaths

As of January, 2015, the sum total of deaths in the United States from West Nile Virus since 2002 is 1,692 persons dead. The mortality rate for those infected with West Nile is between 3% and 15% and is highest among the elderly.

West Nile Virus and Mosquito Control

The key to remaining safe from West Nile is effective mosquito control. West Nile infects humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes, and the best way to reduce the chances of West Nile infection is to reduce exposure to potentially infected mosquitoes.

Creature Control can help here. We are fully licensed and insured to provide mosquito control and can treat the foliage around the home to destroy existing mosquito populations, eliminate mosquito eggs and provide a residual deterrent that makes keeps moquitoes away. Treating mosquito habitats is the most effective way to reduce their populations and ensure that the threat of West Nile is reduced as much as possible. It is not feasible to eliminatre every mosquito, and as long as there are any mosquitoes there is always the threat of West Nile, but mosquito control does help lower the chances of getting infected.

Tips for Protecting Yourself from West Nile Virus

  • Use insect repellent when outdoors. Apply repellent to clothing and exposed skin, and follow directions on the product label (remember, don’t apply repellent under clothing, or on cuts, wounds or irritated skin. You should not apply repellent around the eyes or mouth, and if using spray, apply spray to your hands first, and then apply to face).
  • At home, be sure you are not making it easy for mosquitoes to breed. Make sure to eliminate any standing water. Twice a week, empty water from birdbaths, flower pots, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels, and cans. Make sure rain gutters are clear of debris. Throw out old tires and other items that could collect water.
  • Avoid areas where mosquitoes are likely to be, such as wooded areas or swampy land.

Please contact Creature Control for more information on mosquito control.

Visit the State of Michigan’s West Nile Virus website for more details on symptoms of West Nile Virus, West Nile Virus Treatments, WNV Diagnosis and much more facts relating to West Nile.