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West Nile Virus -- What We All Need to Know
West Nile Virus FAQs
Nile Virus -- What we all need to know
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.
So 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.
for Disease Control
States Department of Fish and Wildlife
Center for the Environment
Washington State Department of Health
International Wildlife Rehabilitation
National Wildlife Rehabilitators
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
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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%
very young and the very old.
with an illness or its treatment that suppresses the immune system
such as HIV, ARC, or cancer.
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.
and vomiting (mild)
and body aches (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:
neck and back pain (mild to severe)
irritability, or changes in personality or behavior (mild to severe)
in mental alertness, such as extreme sleepiness (absent or mild
(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?
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
contact with the mosquito vectors described above.
mosquito reproduction and presence in your own yard/area.
you healthcare provider or a nutritionist to learn how to boost
and/or improve your immune system.
the companion article on vector control above. Remember to be as
friendly to your environment as possible while you achieve mosquito
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