West Nile Virus – Blech

24 05 2010

Summer dreams…. cool lakes, dusty back roads, sleepy morning breezes, disease-carrying mosquitoes…

Yep, they’re a bubble burster alright.

Mosquitoes are back, and so is West Nile virus (WNV). It was first identified in Africa in 1937, and made its way to New York in the summer of 1999.It’s pretty much all over the country now.

Remember when WNV dominated the news, and we were told not to touch dead birds? Well, as it turns out, WNV transmission is through mosquitoes that bite infected birds, carry the virus in their saliva, and then bite humans or animals.

There are other forms of transmission, including through organ transplants and blood transfusions. Transmission from mother to unborn child and through breast milk is possible, although CDC says the chances are so remote, one should not stop breastfeeding because of risk of WNV infection.

For the most part, WNV is pretty benign, with few or no symptoms. The incubation period is 3 to 14 days.  Of those infected, 20% may develop West Nile fever, which can cause flu-like symptoms and lasts less than a week.

In fewer than 1% of those infected, WNV is a severe neurological infection that can cause lasting damage or even death.

It’s possible to become infected through transfusions or transplantation. Donated blood is screened for seven infectious agents, including WNV. The complication that arises is the lack of consistency and standardization in screening blood for WNV, as logistics play a role in the process. Protocols may be more rigorous in areas where WNV is more prevalent. The more sensitive testing is costly and time-consuming.

Then there’s screening of donated organs. Time and test sensitivity are factors. Do the risks of an organ potentially infected with WNV outweigh the benefit of the time necessary to test a donated organ for WNV?  Should a standardized protocol be utilized, or should WNV geographic prevalence play a role in determining protocols? And finally, should recipients have a choice in accepting organs that are potentially infected with WNV, without testing?

There are no certain answers to these questions.

Prevention of WNV is what you would suspect:  limiting your exposure to mosquitoes by wearing protective clothing or mosquito repellent, and by eliminating breeding areas. Check out this tool and find the perfect repellent that meets your needs! In addition to repellent, make sure you follow these suggestions to minimize your exposure to WNV-carrying mosquitoes:

  • Install/repair screens on doors and windows
  • Get rid of standing water on or near your property
  • Try to stay indoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are prevalent