West Nile Virus: What You Need to Know

As the warmer weather in Nebraska finally arrives, so does the annual re-emergence of a common summer-time pest; the mosquito. While being a nuisance in general, mosquitos harbor other dangers, mainly in the form of transmittable diseases. One such disease, known and feared among equestrians due to its ravaging effects on horses, is West Nile Virus. This viral infection is carried primarily by birds, but it can be spread to other mammals through the bites of an opportunistic mosquito. While horse owners have learned to fear West Nile, many other humans are unaware that they can feel its effects as well. A simple bite from a carrier mosquito can leave anyone infected with this potentially deadly disease.

In most cases, the symptoms of West Nile Virus in humans are subtle, and healthy individuals will have little to no lingering effects. Early signs someone has contracted this disease may include fever, headaches, fatigue, rash, and decreased appetite. Often times, those suffering from West Nile will believe they’ve simply caught a bad cold or the flu. Unless severe, treatment will rarely be sought out and infected individuals will simply get better with time.

The concern with West Nile, however, is the small possibility of it further spreading to your brain or spinal canal. Unlucky victims of this could experience disorientation, convulsions, coma, paralysis, and, in rare cases, even death. These more severe symptoms may last anywhere from a few days up to months and can leave survivors with lifelong disabilities. Those at higher risk include the immunocompromised and individuals over the age of 50. For those who are of high suspicion or concern, a simple blood test will help to identify West Nile Virus. If severe symptoms are present though, a sample of spinal fluid may need to be tested.

While scary, several simple precautions can be taken to protect oneself from West Nile. These include avoiding outdoor activities at dusk or dawn when mosquitos are most active, wearing insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or lemon or eucalyptus oils, and avoiding areas with standing water where mosquitos breed and nest. If those precautions still leave you with bites, long pants and shirts with permethrin applied can help reduce skin exposure as well. Though West Nile is a small risk, having a little bit of foresight during your summer fun can ensure its shadow never darkens your door!

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