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West Nile Cases On the Rise: How to Protect Yourself

As you plan your outdoor activities this fall, don’t forget to protect yourself against mosquito bites. Reported cases of the mosquito-borne illness West Nile are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of mid-September, 479 cases and 21 deaths had been reported nationwide with North Dakota ranking number six in the country with 22 cases and one death. Arizona leads the country with 97 reported cases followed by Colorado with 83 cases, 48 in California, 38 in Nebraska, 26 in South Dakota and North Dakota’s 22.

While we normally think of mosquito protection during the summer, mosquitos linger throughout the fall months until temperatures drop consistently below 50 degrees. A rise in cases is not surprising as the West Nile virus tends to occur more frequently in late summer and early fall in mild parts of the country, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. According to CDC figures, while cases are rising, this year’s caseload appears to be on par with last year which closed out with 664 cases and 52 deaths.

Severity of the illness

The West Nile virus is transmitted to humans through a mosquito bite. Mosquitoes generally contract the virus from birds such as crows and jays. For most people, the virus causes mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and tiredness and typically lasts a few days. However, in a small percentage of cases, especially among people over 50 years old and those with chronic medical conditions like cancer and diabetes, the virus can be serious and even deadly. In severe cases, the virus may attack the central nervous symptom, causing paralysis, meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

 Preventive measures

Most treatment for West Nile infection is supportive so good prevention is the best medicine. There are a number of preventive steps you can take to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes and control the mosquito population around your home. These include:

  • When heading outdoors, apply an insect repellant with DEET, picaridin or oil of eucalyptus.
  • DEET in concentrations of 20 percent or less lasts only for an hour or two and should be reapplied every twohours. Occasional use of DEET in both children and adults is considered safe.
  • The CDC says picaridin is often comparable with DEET products of similar concentration and oil of lemoneucalyptus provides protection time similar to low concentration DEET products. Reapply accordingly.
  • Spray clothing with insect repellant. Certain products which contain permethrin are recommended for use onclothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear. Permethrin is highly effective as an insecticide and as a repellent.Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other arthropods and retains this effect after repeated laundering. Permethrin should not to be used directly on skin.
  • Avoid being outdoors during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most prevalent.
  • If outdoors during the dawn or dusk hours, wear long pants and long-sleeved clothing and apply an insectrepellant.
  • Drain any standing water around your home to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
  • Repair damaged screens, doors and windows.
  • Report any dead birds to your local health department, a sign that the virus may be in your area (particularlyjays and crows).
  • Unclog roof gutters.
  • Change water in birdbaths at least weekly.
  • Empty unused swimming pools.

Be sure to see your health care provider if you develop symptoms of severe West Nile. These include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. If you have any questions, always feel free to reach out to your health care provider.

Camille Settelmeyer, DNP, FNP-C
Camille Settelmeyer, DNP, FNP-C

Camille Settelmeyer, DNP, FNP-c, FACHE was raised in Oregon and with her husband and four kids has made North Dakota home for more than 20 years. Her approach to care is holistic--optimizing the management of chronic illnesses, strong engagement in prevention, and balancing the competing priorities of busy lives. Learn more about Dr. Settelmeyer.

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