Although most people infected with the virus never know it, West Nile virus can potentially be life threatening. This week, Maryland suffered its first fatality from the virus.
The virus is spread by mosquitoes that first bite infected birds, then bite a human—which spreads the West Nile virus to humans. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can resemble influenza (typical symptoms include high fever, rash, vomiting and body aches). However, signs of severe West Nile virus infection include severe headache, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors or lack of coordination and partial paralysis. Any signs of severe infection require immediate medical attention.
This year, The Washington Post reports, officials say that “an early spring and hot summer” led to a particularly high number of mosquitoes, which has led to increased numbers of infections. For a map of current infection rates, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maintains a website of reported West Nile virus infections in Maryland.
As Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services outreach materials explain, the best way to prevent West Nile virus is to eliminate breeding grounds/conditions of mosquitoes. To reduce mosquitoes:
- Eliminate standing water (such as in discarded tires, buckets, garbage can lids, wheelbarrows and wading pools).
- Clean roof gutters to remove standing water.
- Ensure that tarps and other surfaces that may trap water are able to drain water rather than collect moisture.
To protect yourself and your family, the following preventative measures can help:
- Limit outdoor activities from dawn to dusk (when mosquitoes are most likely to be active).
- Use screens on all open windows and doors; repair tears as necessary.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use insect repellent when outdoors (make sure to spray clothes with repellent before dressing).
- Never handle dead birds (as if that wasn’t self-explanatory to begin with)—call 311 if you need to dispose of a dead bird.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for West Nile virus and the virus has shown a greater impact on individuals with compromised immune systems, infants, the elderly and pregnant women. The protective and preventative measures mentioned above are crucial in the fight to stop the spread of West Nile virus. Please do your part and contain the spread of West Nile virus by eliminating standing water and spraying insecticides around your property to prevent mosquitoes from reproducing. It just might save a life.
Todd Jasper is a federal emergency manager and has been happy to call Chevy Chase home since 2008. His emergency management blog is www.toddjasper.com.