Written by Carolyn Maschke
Usually West Nile virus is a seasonal epidemic that flares up in the summer – peaking in South Georgia in August – and continuing into the fall. But this year an unusually warm winter and unseasonably warm spring may be behind higher than average mosquito activity across the region.
“More mosquitoes mean the potential for more mosquito-borne illnesses,” says Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant. “For that reason, we’re asking people to take precautions against getting bitten earlier than we usually do.”
So far, no cases of the area’s most common mosquito-borne illnesses, West Nile virus or Eastern Equine encephalitis, have been reported in Southwest Health District. Since there are no vaccines for either disease, the best protection against them is to avoid being bitten.
Around 80% of those infected with West Nile show no symptoms, while up to 20% have symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a rash, said
“Those at risk of experiencing complications and severe illness from a West Nile infection include older adults, people who have received an organ transplant, young children and people with a compromised immune system,” she said. “One out of roughly 150 infected with West Nile virus develop serious symptoms.”
Eastern equine encephalitis often causes inflammation or swelling of the brain. The EEE virus commonly circulates between birds and mosquitoes in swampy areas. Most people who are bitten by a mosquito carrying the EEE virus will not become sick. However, EEE is one of the most serious types of viral encephalitis. Death occurs in approximately 30% of persons who develop encephalitis.
There is no specific treatment available for the viruses. “People with severe cases are hospitalized and receive supportive care such as intravenous fluids and respiratory treatment,” Grant said.
To reduce the risk of being bitten:
- Avoid outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most active – at dawn and dusk
- Cover exposed skin if you must be outside
- Use insect repellent with active ingredients such as DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin
- Drain standing water
- Repair screens