West Nile Virus: An Ounce of Prevention

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The following is an opinion editorial provided by Dr. Barry Malinowski, Medical Director, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio:

How do you know if the mosquitoes buzzing around you are dangerous? This particular offending mosquito is very distinctive; spots and stripes, black and white. It came here from Asia and as a result, the first cases of West Nile virus (WNV) appeared in New York City, in 1999. While this mosquito has now spread to other regions in the US (including Ohio), other local mosquitoes have now become carriers by either biting infected humans and/or birds, and then transferring the virus to others by biting them.

In the vast majority of cases, the illness is so mild it may not be noticeable at all. For some however, it can cause a mild flu-like illness, but for others it can invade the brain and cause a more severe illness or even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a total of 2,636 reported cases of WNV in the United States, resulting in 118 reported deaths. Currently there are 70 confirmed cases of the WNV in our state – two of these cases have been fatal.

There is no vaccine to prevent against the WNV; however, persons who are bitten and contract the illness will develop immunity to the virus. The illness does not spread from human to human directly, but requires a bite from a mosquito that carries the virus.

So, we know that the virus is here, what can you do?

First, stay indoors when mosquitoes are biting (usually at dusk or dawn), or if you need to be out, wear clothes that cover your arms and legs. Also avoid marshy wet areas as those are areas where mosquitoes breed and develop. Keep doors and windows open only when necessary as local mosquitoes, that also now carry the virus, can enter your home. Place screens over your windows and doors if they need to be open. Place mosquito netting over infant strollers or baby carriages when outside.

Secondly, check outside your home to make sure you don’t have environments that are known breeding grounds for mosquitoes. For example, standing water in a bucket or baby pool or even in a small can or tire can attract mosquitoes, and that is where they will lay their eggs, breeding more mosquitoes. Make sure to remove those items and/or empty the water.

Apply insect repellant if you need to be outdoors for any length of time. Be especially careful when applying repellant on children. Avoid applying it to their hands as it can get in their eyes and mouth. And, as a reminder, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30 percent DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than two months.

With the WNV, an ounce of prevention can save your life and the lives of your family members.

For more information, check out CDC.gov; for county-by-county WNV cases found to date in Ohio, click HERE.