West Nile virus – what you should know
Don’t lose any sleep, enjoy our great outdoors, be smart and don’t worry! All right I guess I need to say a bit more.Unlike SARS this is an old bug. It is an arbovirus, to be exact. It was first identified in 1937 in Uganda – you guessed it, in the West Nile district. West Nile virus was recognized in Israel in 1957, in France in the 1960s and came to the United States in 1999. Best estimates are that it came via an infected bird to New York state. That same year the first human case of West Nile virus in the U.S. was identified. It has adapted well to our country and by the summer of 2002 not only had it arrived in Colorado, but it actually reached California.West Nile virus is transmitted by a mosquito bite (NOT ALL MOSQUITOES ARE INFECTED!) Birds are the reservoir of infection. That is, they carry the infection, which is then transmitted to some annoying mosquito that has nothing better to do than bite us! The outside temperature makes a difference, too. The hotter it is the more likely an infected mosquito can transmit the virus. For that reason, August and early September are the months to be most careful.Fortunately, symptoms are uncommon. A full 80 percent of people actually infected have no symptoms at all. That’s an important number. It doesn’t look at people exposed to mosquito bites; it looks at people actually infected by the virus.Of those who develop symptoms, 97 percent will be mild. Like many viruses, these may include the abrupt onset of fever, headache, sore throat, backache, muscle aches, fatigue, and possibly vomiting and a rash. Only 0.6 percent of those infected, or one person in 150, will develop more severe symptoms. These symptoms could include weakness, paralysis and meningitis or encephalitis (a spinal cord or brain infection).Simply then, if you feel well don’t worry even if you were infected. If you’re sick, but no worse than a cold or the flu rest, drink fluids, use Tylenol or ibuprofen for symptoms and call your doctor if you have questions or concerns. Anything worse, I don’t need to say, get checked! It is believed that you can get West Nile Virus only once; immunity lasts a lifetime.Last year in Colorado there were 14 cases of West Nile Virus and no deaths. Of those 14 cases only nine originated in Colorado; five were acquired out of state.West Nile virus was not identified in Eagle County. That means there were no human cases, infected birds, horses or infected water sources. Though that’s good news, this year may be a different story.So how can we be smart?1) If possible eliminate any standing sources of water that might last for more than seven days.2) Know that mosquitoes are much more active at dawn and dusk.3) During times of greatest activity avoid exposure or wear protective clothing when possible – long sleeves and long pants.4) Use an insect repellant.5) DEET is the most effective insect repellant and can be used safely in adults and children older than 2 months. Use products containing 20 percent to 30 percent DEET for adults and 10 percent DEET in children.Next week I’ll talk more about DEET and insect repellants.For more information, the Colorado Department of Health has a wonderful resource at: http://www.fightthebitecolorado.com. So, “Fight the Bite” and have a great summer.Remember your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset & it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered don’t wait, call your doctor.Dr. Drew Werner writes a weekly column for the Daily. Write him c/o Editor, Vail Daily, by e-mail to email@example.com or P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.