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West Nile Virus -- What We All Need to Know

Controlling Mosquitoes
West Nile Virus FAQs

West Nile Virus -- What we all need to know

mosquitoAs most of you are aware, the disease referred to as West Nile Virus has arrived in Washington State. Many people are concerned about the arrival of this virus and are fearful that they will be afflicted with the most catastrophic form of this disease known as 'encephalitis' (a brain inflammation). Encephalitis is a complication that a West Nile patient may experience but it is extremely rare. This should be said once more: The symptoms of encephalitis acquired from exposure to the West Nile Virus are extremely rare.

Knowing how this virus is spread can be helpful and reassuring. For instance, we know that we are very unlikely to pick up WN Virus from a bird or animal that has the disease. That's good news for us here at the wildlife center. While we will, of course, take normal precautions to prevent contact with body fluids, we don't need to fear handling sick or injured birds or mammals.

An intermediate host (vector) is required for this virus to be transferred from a bird to a human. The known intermediate hosts or vectors are: the 'Culex' and 'Ochlerotatus japonicus japonicus' mosquitoes.

baby birdSo birds, horses, and various other mammals serve as reservoirs from which the mosquitoes acquire their supply of WN Virus. They then go about biting various species in the process of acquiring their daily blood meal. If the amount of virus in their system is great enough, they may deposit a sample into their bite victim's blood. As the victim's blood is co-mingled with the mosquito's the WN Virus can be spread to the new host (or reservoir) where it will then replicate and grow.

There are a few things we can do to give ourselves some peace of mind. See the article below for suggestions on how to keep the WN Virus vectors away from you.

We also recommend the following websites that contain much detail on this subject. Set these sites as bookmarks on your browser and visit them throughout the summer, along with our own website, to stay current on the increasing body of knowledge regarding vector borne diseases. Knowledge gained will enable us to continue to live safely and happily with our wild neighbors.

Centers for Disease Control
United States Department of Fish and Wildlife
Cornell University Center for the Environment
Washington State Department of Health

International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association

Controlling Mosquitoes

For centuries people have been getting sick after mosquito bites with diseases like the 'Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,' 'Tularemia,' 'Malaria,' and the like. In more modern times we can acquire diseases like 'St. Louis Encephalitis,' 'Japanese Encephalitis,' 'Equine Encephalitis,' and now the virus known as the 'West Nile Virus.'

So O.K., mosquitoes are bad and we don't want them anywhere near us. Right? But we live in Washington State where it is wet year-round and most of us live in some variety of wetland packed with mosquitoes! What are we to do? How are we supposed to keep our families safe without pouring gallons of pesticides into our streams and yards? In an effort to help we have compiled a few suggestions for you below. Visit some of the websites listed above for much more help. Not every solution will be the right one for your home environment and situation.

Some circumstances may call for more drastic measures than others. For instance, we know that young children have poor immune systems. They are more vulnerable than folks in the age groups from nine years of age to those over the age of 65. Other high-risk groups include people living with chronic illnesses that suppress the immune system or conditions that cause them to intentionally suppress the immune system, such as organ transplant patients and those receiving some arthritis therapies.

If you live or work at a day care for young children, a senior citizen recreation center, retirement center/home, rehabilitation facility, or anyplace where immune-suppressed people are found, you really need to get serious about vector controls. Here are some common sense things we can do:

Take a walk around your yard/neighborhood and look for water of any kind that could be used by mosquitoes to lay their eggs in. The Culex mosquito uses still and stagnant water. The Japonicus mosquito is happy using only a couple of tablespoons of water! So, pick up any soda cans, flowerpots, and old shoes . . . anything and everything that might hold even small amounts of water. Go for this walk after it rains next and throughout the summer. Call it Spring Cleaning that lasts all summer!

- If you have any natural or manmade storm water collection ponds in your neighborhood consult with the County Extension Service to learn the best method for controlling the mosquito larvae that will inevitably be thriving in these waters. Contact the property owner of the pond site and all of your neighbors and get together with them to prepare a neighborhood eco-friendly mosquito control program.

- If you are a 'snow-bird' and plan to be away for significant periods of time this summer consider draining any un-populated water features in your garden, including swimming pools, until you return.

- We don't have to eliminate birdbaths but we do need to keep them very clean! Flush out the old water daily when possible and no less than twice a week. If you can't do that we recommend that you not provide the birdbath and turn it upside down to prevent rainwater collection.

- Consult the County Extension Service for the best advice regarding mosquito control for your unique home environment. Explain your property's micro-weather and eco-system, what family pets/livestock may be using your yard/property and most commonly seen wildlife. They will help you choose the best control methods and products to meet your needs. Ask them about biological controls and how and where to get them. Consider 'feeder' gold fish in rain barrels and small water-gardens. (NOT in fish bearing streams!) They love to eat mosquito larvae and they are fun!

- Don't forget to wear insect repellant when appropriate. Make sure you are not allergic to these products or any of their contents and follow instructions carefully. You can now buy sunscreen that contains insect repellant as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is at risk of contracting West Nile Virus?
Answer: People with poor immune systems. (Remember that less than 1% of all persons infected become ill and less then 3% of that 1% develop encephalitis!)
The very young and the very old.
Those with an illness or its treatment that suppresses the immune system such as HIV, ARC, or cancer.
Those on immuno-suppressant drugs such as organ transplant patients.

What are the signs of West Nile Virus infection in people?
Answer: An infected person may experience (none), one, some, or all of the symptoms listed below. Most have few or only very mild symptoms and they quickly and completely recover.
Nausea and vomiting (mild)
Headache (mild)
Skin rash (mild)
Fever and body aches (mild)
Weakness (mild)

The vast majority of persons infected recover at or before this point. Some people are never aware that they have had this infection. Those who may be developing encephalitis may also experience:
Stiff neck and back pain (mild to severe)
Headache (severe)
Confusion, irritability, or changes in personality or behavior (mild to severe)
Changes in mental alertness, such as extreme sleepiness (absent or mild to severe)
Seizures (mild to severe)
Persons experiencing any of the above symptoms should consult with their primary healthcare provider, right away, to determine their personal degree of risk.

Can my doctor do a test to see if I have West Nile Virus?
Yes. Your doctor, or his/her staff, may choose to test your blood to see if your body has begun to produce antibodies to the West Nile Virus. However, your doctor may ask you a lot of questions first to determine if you have been exposed to the mosquitoes that carry this virus before ordering this expensive test.

How can I protect my pets, self and family from infection with West Nile Virus?

Prevent contact with the mosquito vectors described above.
Control mosquito reproduction and presence in your own yard/area.
Consult you healthcare provider or a nutritionist to learn how to boost and/or improve your immune system.

See the companion article on vector control above. Remember to be as friendly to your environment as possible while you achieve mosquito control.

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