Mosquitoes in parts of Indiana, including the counties serving Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend, have tested positive for West Nile Virus. No human cases have been detected in Indiana in 2020, but health officials are urging individuals to take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites this year. Make sure you know the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family from mosquitos this year.
What Is West Nile Virus?
West Nile Virus (WNV) is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States. “While there have been no human cases, West Nile Virus is in the Midwest,” said Erica E. Kaufman West, MD, an infectious disease doctor with Franciscan Physician Network in Dyer.
West Nile Virus most commonly spreads to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. It is not spread:
- Through coughing, sneezing or touching
- By touching live animals
- From handling live or dead infected birds. Avoid bare-handed contact when handling any dead animal. If you are disposing of a dead bird, use gloves or double plastic bags to place the carcass in a garbage can.
- Through eating infected birds or animals. Always follow instructions for fully cooking meat from either birds or mammals.
Certain jobs put a person at higher risk of getting bitten by an infected mosquito. These include farmers, foresters, landscapers, gardeners, painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, laborers, mechanics, and other outdoor workers.
What Are Symptoms Of West Nile Virus?
Most people infected with West Nile Virus do not develop any symptoms, but some people do.
“Older people are the ones usually with more severe symptoms,” Dr. West said.
If you do have symptoms of West Nile Virus, they will usually appear within 2 to 14 days of a bite from an infected mosquito. These symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Joint pains
- A skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes
About 1 person in 150 will develop severe illness after getting infected by the West Nile Virus. The virus can cause life-threatening illnesses, such as encephalitis, meningitis, or meningoencephalitis, which are infections and inflammation of the brain and the covering around the brain. Severe illness can happen at any age, but people older than 60 are at greater risk, especially those with a weakened immune system.
“West Nile Virus is one of the insect-borne viruses we worry most about because of the consequences it can have,” Dr. West said.
A person with either of these illnesses usually must be treated in a hospital. In some cases, these illnesses can be fatal. Symptoms of these severe illnesses include:
- High fever
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Vision loss
How Is West Nile Virus Treated?
There are no medicines currently available to treat the infection caused by the West Nile Virus. There are also no vaccines available to prevent infection.
Testing is available that can help diagnose the infection in people who have symptoms of viral encephalitis or meningitis.
How Can I Prevent West Nile Virus?
There is only one way to prevent West Nile Virus: “A basic tip is do not get bit by mosquitos. It is best to be proactive in preventing a mosquito bite to prevent any possible illness,” Dr. West said.
David Lin, MD, an infectious disease doctor with Franciscan Physician Network in Lafayette, suggests staying inside, when possible.
“Remember your other precautions for other diseases – stay at home when possible, social distance when you need to be out, wear a mask when outside your home,” Dr. Lin said.
How Can I Prevent Mosquito Bites?
Common precautions for preventing mosquito bites include practicing the three “R’s” – reduce, repel and report.
Reduce your chance of mosquito bites by:
- Making doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or other openings.
- Keeping doors and windows shut whenever possible.
- Eliminating, or refreshing each week, all sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed, including water in bird baths, ponds, flowerpots, wading pools, old tires and any other containers. Common mosquito breeding sites can include tree holes, toys left outdoors, or even bottle caps. Keep mosquitoes from laying eggs near your home by emptying, covering, throwing away, or turning over any items that hold water.
- Using a mosquito bed net if you’re unable to protect yourself from mosquitoes while sleeping.
- Don't stay outdoors at dawn and dusk. These are the times of day when mosquitoes are more likely to bite. “Pay attention to the time of the day,” Dr. West said. “Just stay aware.”
“Keep in mind some mosquitoes bite throughout the day, but it always is worse at dawn and dusk, so avoid being out at dawn or dusk or nighttime,” Dr. Lin added.
Repel mosquitos by:
- Wearing shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors.
- Applying insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR 3535 according to label instructions. Consult a physician before using repellents on infants.
Report locations with stagnant water such as roadside ditches, flooded yards and similar locations that may produce mosquitoes.
By Ariel Anderson
Social Media Specialist