If there is a mosquito within a 1 mile radius, it will find me. I am that person in our family that mosquitos seem to love which my husband finds as a convenient thing for him. Unfortunately, two of my three children “inherited” this trait from me. Not only do mosquito bites cause lots of itching and huge red welts if you are like me and my kiddos, but the bite of a mosquito can be the culprit of unwanted illness such as West Nile Virus. You may have seen recent news headlines here in the Capital City making us aware yet again this year that mosquitos in our area have tested positive for West Nile Virus. In this two part series, we will discuss what exactly is this virus, what does it mean for your time outside as the summer winds down, and how can you protect your family?
West Nile virus (WNV) is a virus that is transmitted through the bite of an infected Culex mosquito. The life cycle of the WNV involves mosquitoes feeding on infected birds. The virus then remains in the salivary glands of the mosquito, and when that mosquito “feeds” on humans, WNV can be passed onto the human host.
WNV has been documented across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India since the mid-1900s, but it did not make its appearance here in the United States until 1999. This virus was “imported” to the US by way of New York- most likely by a person who may not have even known they had the virus. Since 1999, WNV has been detected in every state except Hawaii and Alaska. We often see outbreaks of WNV during the mid to late summer months of June to September when the Culex mosquito is most common. In 2016, there were 40 cases of human infection with WNV here in Louisiana. By comparison, there were 335 cases of WNV in humans in 2012 here in Louisiana. So far this year, there have been mosquitos that have tested positive for WNV here in Baton Rouge, but from available resources, it does not appear that there have been any confirmed human cases thus far.
Ok so now to what everyone really wants to know…how common is WNV and what should parents be on the lookout for in regards to symptoms? Great news here- about 80% of people who become infected with WNV will have absolutely no symptoms. For 20% of people infected, they will most commonly have West Nile fever which is a mild, self-limited illness with symptoms that include fever, body aches, headache, vomiting and/or diarrhea and fatigue. Approximately 1% of those that are infected with WNV will come down with the serious form of the illness which can include swelling of the brain, known as encephalitis, or inflammation and swelling of the covering of the brain and spinal cord, known as meningitis. Symptoms of neurologic involvement with WNV include high fevers, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, and seizures. For this 1% of infected people, WNV can be deadly.
There is no specific treatment for WNV. Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics are not helpful. For those with the more serious form of WNV, hospitalization might be required in order to provide fluids as well as pain control. There is lots of ongoing research into possible treatment options for those with encephalitis or meningitis from WNV, but at this time, all of these treatments are considered experimental. Also, at this time, there is no vaccine to prevent WNV.
Now, we all know that the chance of getting a mosquito bite in the next few months is almost as much of a guarantee as the afternoon rain showers here in the South, so how do you know when to be worried? No need to panic at the first sign of fever during the summer months as there are lots of other circulating summer viruses other than WNV (In fact, I have been seeing a particularly bad “fever” virus making the rounds in the past few weeks here in Baton Rouge). Now, if your child ever has a fever along with a drastic change in behavior, weakness or other neurologic changes, immediate medical evaluation is needed (and this is really true anytime of the year and not just during WNV season).
Stay tuned for the second part of this blog series where we will discuss the best ways to protect yourself and your kiddos from the bite of those pesky mosquitos.
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