West Nile Virus

Most mosquitoes are simply annoying. But a small percentage can carry diseases like West Nile virus. Over the past few years, cases of West Nile virus have been found in animals, birds and humans in all continental states in the U.S.

West Nile virus is not transmitted from person-to-person contact. For example, you can’t get the virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with the disease. People get the West Nile virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito, with the mosquito becoming infected by feeding on an infected bird. But only one out of every 100 mosquitoes in an area affected by West Nile will actually be infected with the virus. In addition to birds, West Nile virus also has been shown to infect horses, dogs, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels and domestic rabbits. However, you can’t get the West Nile virus directly from an infected animal. In many parts of the United States, the risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito is greatest from July to early September. But in warmer, wetter areas in the southwest, mosquito bites can be a risk all year long.

Not everyone who gets bitten by an infected mosquito will get the virus. And although kids can get West Nile virus, it’s rare for them to become very sick from it.

Symptoms of West Nile virus really depend on the person who becomes infected. Fortunately, very few people who become infected with the West Nile virus will develop serious symptoms. The most common symptoms, which usually develop three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, are similar to many other viral infections. Kids with normal immune systems usually get a mild “flu-like” illness, and may not feel bad at all with the infection. People age 50 and older and those with weakened immune systems due to HIV, cancer or organ transplants, are most at risk for the infection. Most of the time, symptoms of West Nile are similar to the flu and include:

In the most rare and extreme cases, West Nile can cause a condition called encephalitis, which is irritation and swelling of the brain. Symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis and, rarely, death.

Health officials in states where the disease has already been found are doing their best to find out where mosquitoes live, and kill the eggs of these mosquitoes that might carry West Nile virus.

Here’s what you can do to prevent your children from coming in contact with West Nile virus:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorses the use of insect repellents containing DEET with the following recommendations:

Check your child for mosquito bites after outdoor activity and watch for any symptoms of West Nile virus. There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, but if you suspect that you or your child may be infected, you should see your doctor. An antibody test can help to confirm an infection, and may be done if your child has classic symptoms and lives in an area where West Nile virus has been reported. Keep in mind that most people with mild symptoms, especially if they don’t live in an area where there is an outbreak, will not need testing.

Even if the West Nile virus hasn’t been frequently reported where you live, you might want to look for and report any dead birds you find around your home, since they may be infected and this is often how the virus is first discovered in a new area. The species of birds that can become infected will depend on where you live, but American Crows and blue jays are the most common variety of birds affected. If you find one of these dead birds or a large number of dead birds of any species, you should call your local health department.

Keep in mind that even in areas where the virus is circulating, less than 1 percent of people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill. While West Nile virus is something you should be aware of, it is not necessarily something you should worry about.

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