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Protect yourself from West Nile Virus

by Nancy Maneely

West Nile VirusThis year we’re hearing alarming stories in the news about West Nile Virus, which has been reported in a greater numbers in North America than ever before. As of September 2012, 48 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 2,636 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 118 deaths, have been reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, 1,405 (53%) were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis) and 1,231 (47%) were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease.

Why the record numbers? According to the authors of a commentary published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the dramatic increase in WNV cases could be due to "the interplay of heat, drought, human habitats, increased mosquito populations and enhanced viral development that all act in concert to increase the force of transmission."

Additionally, experts suspect that a new strain of the disease may be emerging and that the “reservoir of infection” in birds may be growing. They write, "A mosquito-prevention message must be unrelenting, directed at personal protective behaviors (avoidance, repellents, and clothing) and reduction of breeding sites.”

Summer is the peak season of mosquito activity, but in many parts of the U.S. mosquito season continues through fall, or until the first frost.

According to the CDC, the easiest and best way to avoid WNV is to prevent mosquito bites. This you can do by using insect repellent. Their highest recommendation is for those products containing DEET.

If you prefer to use non-chemical repellents, here are some products to try:

  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Citronella Oil
  • Rosemary Oil
  • Peppermint Oil
  • Geranium Oil

It’s important to remember that, while these products are considered “natural,” they are not necessarily safe for everyone. Don’t apply to children under 3 without first consulting his or her health practitioner. And you should test the substance on your skin first to avoid any possible allergic reactions.

Risk Factors

People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms of WNV if they do get sick, and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites.

Keep in mind that the more time you're outdoors, the more time you could be bitten by an infected mosquito. Pay attention to avoiding mosquito bites if you spend a lot of time outside, either working or playing.

Other ways to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.
  • Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.

What is your preferred strategy to avoid mosquito bites?

 

Sources:
Science Daily
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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