With nine cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) reported in Maryland this year, our
state has been comparatively lucky. Incidents of the potentially serious virus, spread to humans through bites from infected mosquitoes, have spiked alarmingly
in other parts of the country, with more than 1,100 cases reported and at least
Symptoms of WNV typically develop three to 14 days after a bite from an infected mosquito. A mild case can include fever, headache, nausea and a skin rash. In severe cases, sufferers may also experience neck stiffness, muscle weakness, convulsions, vision loss, numbness, paralysis and coma. Symptoms can last for several weeks, and the neurological effects in severe cases can be permanent. WNV isn’t bacterial, so it does not respond to antibiotics, and there is no vaccine. Complications from West Nile Virus can be fatal.
The good news is that approximately 80 percent of people infected with West Nile won’t ever have symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In those instances, the virus passes through the body undetected with no lasting effects.
The remaining 20 percent are most likely to have the milder symptoms, which may last a few days or up to several weeks but also resolve themselves with no lasting effects.
One in 150 West Nile sufferers develops the serious form of the illness. This is most common in patients over 50 and those with weakened immune systems. Visit a doctor right away if you experience any of the severe symptoms, including unusually severe headaches or confusion.
Although Maryland hasn’t been hit hard…yet, our first confirmed human cases are a reminder to take steps to protect ourselves now.
The best defense against WNV is to avoid mosquito bites, which has become even more challenging now that the Asian tiger mosquito has moved into our state. These disease carriers are active around the clock, not just at dusk and dawn. But there are measures you can take to reduce biting and breeding.
Tips to avoid mosquito bites:
- Wear long pants/long-sleeved shirts and use insect repellant outdoors.
- Keep window and door screens in good repair.
- Rid your yard of mosquito breeding sites by emptying any standing water (check planters, buckets, pool covers, children’s wading pools, birdbaths, tire swings, wheelbarrows, garbage can lids, wagons, pet dishes). Help neighbors do the same.
I urge everyone to be part of a community effort to eliminate standing water. Working together, we can make our friendly neighborhoods much less welcoming to mosquitoes.