How to Avoid the West Nile Virus

How is West Nile virus spread?

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female mosquito. The mosquitoes acquire the virus through biting infected birds. Crows and jays are the most common birds associated with the virus, but at least 110 other bird species also have been identified with the virus.

Most people who are infected never get sick. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have mild to severe symptoms. There is no vaccine for West Nile virus, so the best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites.

The best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites:

  • If possible, stay indoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  • During mosquito season, wear socks and shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing is best.
  • Apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin. Spraying the outside of your clothing provides extra protection. Use a repellent that contains DEET. Choose a strength based on the number of hours of protection you need. Products that contain more repellent aren’t stronger—they just last longer. Always use repellents as directed.

What do I need to know about insect repellents?

  • Sweating, perspiration, or water may require reapplication of the product.
  • If you aren’t being bitten, it isn’t necessary to reapply repellent.
  • Don’t apply aerosol or pump products directly to your face. Spray your hands and then rub them carefully over the face, avoiding your eyes and mouth.
  • Don’t allow young children to apply their own repellant, apply it for them. Don’t apply any type of repellent to children’s hands because they tend to put their hands in their mouths and may rub their eyes.
  • Use products with a low concentration of DEET, 30 percent or less, on children between ages 2 and 12. Some experts suggest that it’s acceptable to apply repellent with low concentrations of DEET to infants older than age 2 months. For children younger than age 2, only one application per day of repellent containing DEET is recommended.
  • Don’t use DEET on infants under 2 months of age. Instead, you can use oil of lemon eucalyptus and cover your child’s stroller or playpen with mosquito netting.
  • Use enough repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing. Don’t apply repellent to skin that’s under clothing. Heavy application isn’t necessary to achieve protection.
  • Don’t apply repellent to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
  • Don’t spray aerosol or pump products in enclosed areas.

According to the CDC, repellents containing a higher concentration of DEET provide longer lasting protection:

  • A product containing 23.8 percent DEET provides an average of 5 hours of protection from mosquito bites.
  • A product containing 20 percent DEET provides almost 4 hours of protection from mosquito bites.
  • A product with 6.65 percent DEET provides almost 2 hours of protection from mosquito bites.
  • Products with 4.75 percent DEET and 2 percent soybean oil are both able to provide roughly 1.5 hours of protection from mosquito bites.

Reduce mosquitoes in your yard and neighborhood: 

  • Remove anything that can collect water, such as old tires and empty cans, barrels, and flower pots.
  • Change water in birdbaths at least once a week. Clean a pet’s outdoor water bowl every day.
  • Drain unused swimming pools and remove collected water from pool covers.
  • Clean clogged gutters.
  • Install or repair door and window screens.
  • Report any dead birds to your local or state health department.

Call the Doctor If You Have Any of the Following:

  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Confusion
  • Tremors (shaking muscles)
  • Paralysis (loss of movement)

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