Most people have probably heard of West Nile Virus since it seems to be spreading across the United States and has recently made the news due to severe infections in people in several states.
West Nile Virus was first discovered in 1937 in Africa along the West Nile, as the name states. It apparently didn’t hit the United States until 1999 when birds and people in New York were diagnosed with the disease.
In addition to people and birds, West Nile Virus can infect deer, horses and of course, the main vector, mosquitoes. When a mosquito feeds on an infected bird or mammal, it carries the disease to its next host.
Mild cases of the disease can simply show up as a fever with flu like symptoms that include fatigue, headache and body aches, but severe cases can cause major swelling in the brain or around the spinal cord, which could cause paralysis and in the worst cases, death.
Most people who are bitten by infected mosquitoes are healthy enough to fight off the disease, but in the very young or very old, or people with suppressed immune systems, the disease can become quite ill and require hospitalization.
With aggressive treatment, most people are able to recover, but they may still have some long tern effects.
Researchers are studying infected people who have recovered to see if they are able to build up immunity against future infections.
As of 2006, there were more than 4,000 cases of West Nile Virus throughout the US, with just under 150 deaths. Most of the cases are from California, Idaho, Colorado, Texas and Nebraska.
Symptoms usually show up in under a week, but could appear about 2 weeks after initial infection, which may make it difficult to pinpoint the area of infection, since the affected person may not remember where they were 2 weeks ago.
West Nile Virus is not transmitted from person to person , but there have been reported cases of people receiving blood transfusions catching the virus from infected blood.
Most household pets don’t seem too susceptible to catching the virus, but pet birds or horses can catch it from mosquito bites.
Health agencies try to track the disease by examining dead birds that are found by employees or the public. They warn people, though, not to handle the birds or to take great caution when they do.
For some reason, crows and jays are apparently very susceptible to the virus. If a dead bird, particularly a crow or jay, is found, it’s best to call the local health agency and report it so they can put it into their database.
As a preventive measure, people are advised to eliminate all sources of standing water, such as bird baths, old tires or anything else that might collect water.
It’s a good idea to walk around your house and look for anything, even small flower pots, that might contain water.
Mosquitoes can breed in the smallest amount of water, so getting rid of, or turning over, pots and containers will help to keep the mosquitoes away from your house, and your neighbors.