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West Nile Virus Prevention

The West Nile virus may sound like an exotic virus one contracts while trekking through jungles overseas, but in reality it is a lot closer to home than most people realize. In fact, it may be in your own backyard.

The West Nile virus (WNV) is an arthropod-borne virus, which is most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes. In 2016, 47 states and the District of Columbia reported West Nile infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. There were overall 2,038 cases of the West Nile infection in people in 2016.

There is no vaccine to prevent WNV and, unfortunately, there isn’t any medication to treat it either. You could have had WNV and never even have known it, as only 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever or other symptoms. And only 1 out of 150 people develop a serious, and sometimes fatal, illness.

Most people infected with the WNV have no signs or symptoms. 20% of people develop a mild infection called the West Nile fever. Their symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash

Less than 1% of infected people get serious neurological infections from the WNV, including inflammation of the brain and of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of neurological infections include:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Stupor or coma
  • Tremors of muscle jerking
  • Seizures
  • Partial paralysis or muscle weakness

The incubation period is usually 2 to 6 days but can range from 2 to 14 days, and can be even longer for people with certain medical conditions that affect the immune system.

Despite being an arid desert climate, New Mexico has seen its fair share of West Nile infections; so far this year alone there have been seven lab-confirmed cases of WNV, and one fatality.

The most effective way to avoid the WNV is to prevent bites from mosquitos. This can be done by:

  • Using environmental protection agency-registered insect repellents.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use air conditioning when available and use screens on windows and doors.
  • Mosquitoes lay eggs near water, so scour your property once a week for any standing water in places like buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, trash containers, etc. and empty any water and scrub them out.
  • Stay inside during dawn and dusk hours, as that is when mosquitoes are most active.

“Mosquito populations have been unusually high all summer, and we continue to focus control efforts on areas where humans are at risk,” said Dr. Mark DiMenna, Deputy Director of the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department. “We encourage citizens in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County to report high levels of mosquito activity through 311 in order to request control.”