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The West Nile Virus Saga
Be sure to use your repellent
As I walked the dog just after dusk, I realized the remarkable increase in the number of mosquitoes that have appeared after hurricane Irene hit the east coast. I was grateful that my repellant was working (except in the areas that didn’t get covered as well as I wanted), but it occurred to me that West Nile virus (WNV) could become a significant health risk in the wake of these big storms.
Turns out my fears are not unfounded. After hurricane Katrina, the CDC noted a 2-fold rise in WNV cases, so there should be no difference in other tropical storms in terms of the ability to support the local mosquito population.
Many communities are spraying aggressively in an effort to stave off any increase in health risks. Why bother? The answer is the fact that WNV can be a serious problem and even result in death in susceptible people and animals. About 80% of people wouldn’t even notice that they are infected because their symptoms are so mild. But 20% have flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. One out of 150 people get seriously sick with high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. This can be fatal.
Prevention of mosquito bite is the best protection, and per the CDC, the following active ingredients in your repellant are the most effective (and safe):
• Picaridin (KBR 3023, Chemical Name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester)
• Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus* or PMD (Chemical Name: para-Menthane-3,8-diol) the synthesized version of oil of lemon eucalyptus
• IR3535 (Chemical Name: 3-[N-Butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester
• DEET (Chemical Name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethly-3-methyl-benzamide)
If any symptoms are noted, the onset is usually between 3 and 14 days after the infected mosquito bites. People over the age of 50 are more at risk for developing symptoms.
There is no specific treatment for WNV infection, and for milder symptoms, people usually use over-the-counter remedies for the various symptoms. In more severe cases, people need to go to the hospital where they can receive supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care.
Here is an interesting aside: the CDC asks that If you find a dead bird: Don't handle the body with your bare hands. Contact your local health department for instructions on reporting and disposing of the body. They may tell you to dispose of the bird after they log your report.