West Nile Virus: What you Need to know
Despite the headline-making Zika virus, West Nile Virus (WNV) remains more widespread and worthy of continued coverage. Here is an overview of what it is, how it is spread and how to avoid it.
West is West Nile Virus, Avian Flu
West Nile Virus can only complete its life cycle inside an avian (bird) host. Horses and humans are incidental, “dead-end” hosts. A vaccination is available for horses, though this preventive action is not without risks. There is no human vaccine. The good news is that 70-80% of persons who contract WNV exhibit no symptoms.
How Do You Get West Nile Virus?
WNV is transmitted almost exclusively through the bites of mosquitoes. Blood transfusions, organ transplants, and pregnancy, delivery, and breast-feeding mother-child transmission of the virus are less likely avenues of infection.
Where and When is WNV Found?
This disease originated in the Old World (Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia and Australia), and was first detected in North America in 1999. Wayward migratory birds are thought to have brought WNV to the U.S. It has since been recorded in all of the lower forty-eight states. Peak risk is from June through September.
Again, most WNV patients show no sign of infection. Roughly one in five victims experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body and joint aches, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and/or a skin rash. Recovery is usually complete, though weakness and fatigue may persist for weeks or even months. Advanced age, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, and cancer may enhance the risk of serious manifestations of WNV.
Treatment and Prevention
Since there is no treatment for the virus itself, prevention is vital:
- Minimize exposure to mosquitoes; drain all standing water where they breed.
- Wear long sleeves, pants, and a hat outdoors; treat clothing with permethrin repellents like Ben’s® Clothing and Gear, for added protection. Ben’s® Clothing and Gear contains 0.5% Permethrin to kill biting insects on contact.
- Apply repellent with the formulas DEET or Picaridin as recommended by the CDC. For maximum protection in the most dense bug populated areas it is good to go with a 100 percent DEET formula like Ben’s® 100, for up to 10 hours of protection. Ben’s® also offers a 30 percent DEET with a unique water-based formula, which is made to evaporate slowly, so repellent stays on longer with little absorption into the skin. For a Picaridin based formula go with Natrapel with its 20% Picaridin formula, which is the maximum allowed and provides up to 12 hours of protection from mosquitoes.
- Report dead birds to health authorities so they may test them for WNV.