Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
West Nile Virus
Every summer we hear warnings that West Nile virus has popped up in our area. West Nile virus was first discovered in 1937 in Africa and is suspected to have entered the United States around 1999. The disease is passed from an infected mosquito to humans, but not everyone that is bitten by an infected mosquito will get the virus. West Nile is not passed from human to human and the virus is spread by a specific species of mosquito, the Culex.
The severity of West Nile virus depends on who acquires it. A child with a normal immune system may get mild ‘flu-like’ symptoms and not feel incredibly ill, while people over 50 years-old and those with weakened immune systems due to HIV, cancer or organ transplants may be affected more seriously. There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, and as it is a viral infection, antibiotics will not work.
Though the disease can be very severe, it is important to know that the chances of becoming severely ill from the virus are extremely rare. Only less than 1% of all of mosquitoes in any area where West Nile has been found are actually infected with the disease and less than 1% of all people who are bitten by mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus will become seriously ill. West Nile has not been detected in ticks or transmitted to humans by any insect other than mosquitoes.
Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, stiff neck and back, muscle aches, fatigue, joint pain, swollen glands, and rashes. Though rare, West Nile virus can cause encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain that can affect the entire nervous system. Symptoms of West Nile may take 5 to 15 days to appear.
You can protect your family from contracting West Nile virus by:
Wearing insect repellent that contain DEET, lemon eucalyptus or picaridin. Spray clothes as well as exposed skin with the exception of your child’s hands, as he or she may touch his or her eyes or mouth. Choose a repellent that contains no more than 10-30% DEET for children because higher concentrations of DEET can be absorbed through the skin and may be toxic. Read all directions on any repellent before applying.
Wearing socks, long-sleeved shirts and pants when playing outside, if possible.
Repairing damaged or broken screens on windows and doors.
Avoiding staying outdoors for long periods in the early morning or early evening because mosquitoes are most active at those times.
Removing all standing water around your home and yard, such as in gutters, wading pools, buckets and potted plants, because mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. Change water in your pet dishes and birdbaths regularly.
If you find a dead bird in your area, do not touch it with your bare hands (and make sure that you tell your child not to touch it). Call your local health department immediately.
If your child shows symptoms of West Nile virus, visit your pediatrician.