The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned the public against the spread of the potentially fatal West Nile virus (WNV) through mosquito bites that are rampant during the summer season.
According to the agency, WNV is one of the leading causes of domestically acquired arboviral disease among people living in the United States. This type of infection often occurs during warm weather months when arthropods such as ticks and mosquitoes are most active.
Transmission of the Virus
While the West Nile virus is typically transmitted from one carrier to another through insect bites, other forms of transmission have also been documented in the past. These include organ transplants, blood transfusions, exposure to the disease in laboratory settings and even mother to child transmission through pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
These additional routes of human infection, however, only represent a very small number of WNV cases.
Compared to other infectious diseases, the West Nile virus cannot be transferred from person to person or from animal to person through direct contact.
The disease is also not transmitted through handling infected birds, whether living or dead. Despite this, the CDC still advises against touching dead animals without proper protection. Dead birds should be disposed in garbage cans while wearing gloves or double plastic bags.
The WNV cannot be passed on through consumption of infected animal meat, but it is still recommended not to do so as food-borne pathogens could be transferred instead. As part of proper public health care practice, make sure to always cook meat from birds or animals thoroughly.
Symptoms of the Infection
People infected with the West Nile virus typically do not show any symptoms of the disease. Only one in every five infected patients develops fever along with other indications of the WNV such as joint pains, body aches and headaches. Some patients also experience diarrhea, vomiting and formation of rashes in different parts of the body.
Most WNV patients eventually recover completely from the infection but weakness and fatigue can last for weeks or even months.
The CDC said less than one percent of infected people develop a serious case of neurologic illness such as encephalitis (an acute inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (an inflammation of both the brain and spinal cord).
Those suffering from medical conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease, experience a higher risk for neurologic illness.
Around 10 percent of WNV patients with neurologic infection die from the condition.
How to Treat the Infection
As of the moment, there are no vaccines or antiviral medications available to treat West Nile virus infection. Some pain relievers that are sold over the counter at drug stores can be used to reduce fever and relieve some of the other symptoms.
For severe cases, patients are urged to go to a hospital in order to receive proper treatment.
How to Prevent the Infection
The most effective way to prevent the spread of the West Nile virus is to avoid getting mosquito bites, according the CDC.
The agency recommends using insect repellents with picaridin, DEET and IR3535 components when going outdoors. Applying products with para-menthane-diol and oil of lemon eucalyptus can also provide protection from mosquito bites for long periods.
People are also advised to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants during outdoor activities. Spraying clothes with permethrin-based repellents or other EPA-approved products can also serve to add protection.
Mosquitos are most active during hours between dusk and dawn, so people are discouraged from going outdoors during this period.
Photo: Eli Christman | Flickr