Take the bite out of West Nile Virus

Interior Health warns public to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites this summer.

  • Jun. 20, 2012 6:00 a.m.

Interior Health is reminding local residents to take extra precautions against mosquito bites this summer.

West Nile virus, a disease that is spread from infected birds to humans through mosquito bites, has been present in B.C. since 2009.

West Nile virus was first detected in B.C. in the South Okanagan during the summer of 2009. To date there have been three human cases of  the virus acquired in our province—all of which have been in the Okanagan.  Several West Nile Virus cases in IH residents also occur due to travel to nearby provinces or states with higher levels of  mosquito activity.

“If you have been bitten by a mosquito, you do not have to be tested for West Nlle Virus,” says Jennifer Jeyes, communicable disease specialist with Interior Health. “Most people who become infected with the virus will have no symptoms or ill effects at all.

“About 20% of infected people may experience mild to severe flu-like symptoms and less than 1% of people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will get severely ill. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are generally more at risk of developing a severe illness in response to WNv exposure.”

If you have mild health symptoms that you think might be from the West Nile virus, you should get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and avoid alcohol. If your symptoms persist and seem to be getting more severe, call your doctor.

While the risk of becoming seriously ill from West Nile Virus infection is low, Interior Health says it is important to remember there are preventative steps that everyone can take in order to reduce the risk of infection. The best protection against  the virus is to avoid mosquito bites and to reduce mosquito breeding areas.

Here are some simple things we can all do:

•   Use mosquito repellent. Apply mosquito repellent to areas of exposed skin. Check the product label for instructions on proper use.  Repellents containing DEET are safe if the label precautions are followed.  DEET-free products are available, but may not provide as long-lasting protection.

•    Wear protective clothing. Avoid dark clothing as it tends to attract mosquitoes. If you are in an area with lots of mosquitoes, wear loose fitting, full-length pants and a long-sleeved shirt to keep mosquitoes from biting. Mosquitoes that can carry West Nile Virus are most active at dusk and at dawn. Avoid using perfumes, soaps, hair care products and lotions with floral fragrances.

•    Install mosquito screens on windows and consider staying indoors between dusk and dawn and in the early evening.

•    Prevent mosquito breeding around your home. It doesn’t take much time or water for mosquitoes to develop from eggs into adults. Anything that can hold water can be a mosquito breeding area. Identify and remove potential breeding areas on your property—empty saucers under flowerpots; change water in bird baths twice a week; unclog rain gutters; drain tarps, tires, and other debris where rain water may collect; and install a pump in ornamental ponds or stock them with fish. Stagnant backyard pools can be a big source of mosquitoes and should be maintained regularly to prevent mosquito growth.

Interior Health will continue to collect mosquitoes for testing to detect and monitor the spread of the virus through the 2012 season.  Interior Health traps mosquitoes at 14 sites across the southern Interior and sends them to the provincial lab for testing.

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