A decade ago, I asked Mom why the daughter of one of her friends acted “strangely.” She replied that “Susie” had been bitten by a mosquito while on vacation in South Carolina and had developed encephalitis—inflammation of the brain or adjacent tissues. She suffered nerve damage, and now had permanent cognitive and coordination problems—she was lucky to be alive.
I uttered a fairly useless comment about how really unfair that was, but it was.
The odds against it happening are in the millions to one, but now with the surge of West Nile Virus (WNV), it’s more of a reality—even with less than 1 percent of those who contract West Nile expected to develop encephalitis or meningitis.
Virus on the move
Now The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirm 1,118 cases of West Nile Virus in 38 states with 41 deaths through Tuesday. That number is three times higher than normal and expected to climb.
NBC News reports over 80 percent of the cases reported from six states Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and California) with nearly half reported from Texas. That story also addresses valid concerns about insecticide safety.
CDC says one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness, while 20 percent will have mild symptoms. Approximately 80 percent, or four out of five, won’t show any symptoms at all.
WNV symptoms vary
No medications or vaccines exist to treat the virus or prevent infections, so symptoms are treated. We baby boomers and the elderly are at a higher risk to develop serious WNV symptoms, as well as those with compromised immune systems. Here’s what you need to know about symptoms, courtesy of CDC:
Serious: high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. May last several weeks and neurological effects may be permanent, as with Susie.
Milder: fever, headache and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. May last for a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
Attention to prevention
So what can you do? The CDC offers these directives to prevent mosquito bites.
- Stay inside.
- When outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. Follow package directions.
- Mosquitoes, like coyotes, prefer dusk and dawn. Slather on insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants.
- Check and tighten window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out.
- Mosquitoes love standing water. Dump it from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change pet water and replace bird bath water weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Empty children’s wading pools, and stand on sides when not in use.