Mosquito bites? Don’t risk your health!

Mosquito biting person's arm

I usually walk my dogs one at a time, so I can work with them on their manners. The thing I noticed that night was the difference 15 minutes can make in the number of mosquitoes buzzing around.

I walked my first dog, and I didn’t see a single little blood-sucker. Fifteen minutes later, with dog number two, the air was so thick with them I felt as if I were walking through a fog.

And, guess who forgot the mosquito repellent.

The worst part? I had just finished writing a piece on West Nile Virus, and now I was doing the exact thing I shouldn’t have been doing. I was out in peak mosquito time without bug spray.

About West Nile Virus

When I checked with Jack Breen, MD, an infectious diseases expert at North Colorado Medical Center, I learned that West Nile is very unpredictable.

“It depends on the amount of infected mosquitoes, infected birds and standing water,” Dr. Breen said.

Considering the wetter-than-normal summer we have had this year in Northern Colorado, one would expect a higher possibility of infected mosquitoes. In fact, where I live the vector index is quite high.

A press release from the Weld County Department of Public Health stated that the index in the Johnstown-Milliken area (southwest from Greeley, for those of you not in the area) hit 2.3, and the Greeley Tribune reported on Aug. 8 that the first human case of West Nile Virus in Weld County came from this area.

County health officials say once the index hits 0.5, the risk for human infection starts climbing.

As Dr. Breen told me, even if a person is infected, he or she may not show symptoms. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that around 20 percent of those infected will have some symptoms.

Symptoms for the mild form of West Nile include fever, headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash or fatigue. The fatigue and weakness can last for months, according to the CDC.

“A very small percentage, about 1 percent, of people infected will develop neurological symptoms,” Dr. Breen said.

Those neurological symptoms include encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, an inflammation of the protective layers of the brain and spinal cord. It can also include disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis.

The Four D’s

There is no cure or vaccination for West Nile virus, so the best way to avoid it is to avoid mosquito bites. Dr. Breen and other experts recommend remembering the four “D’s”:

  • Dusk and dawn are when mosquitos are most active, which is why  it’s best to stay indoors or wear clothes that cover more skin.
  • DEET, an ingredient in some insect repellants, has been found to be effective in deterring mosquitoes when used as directed.
  • Drain standing water around your house to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds.

Of all the things that Dr. Breen told me about West Nile, the most surprising completely dispelled what I thought was the truth.

“There is a myth that if you’re infected once you don’t have to worry about getting West Nile again,” Dr. Breen said. “That’s simply not true.”

So, basically, not only was it foolish for me to go out on a walk in a heavily mosquito-infested area one night, it would be even more so to keep doing it. Eventually, I would get infected and show symptoms.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to make sure there isn’t any standing water close to my house. And, I will definitely get the DEET out this time.

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