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Facts about West Nile virus

August 23, 2012

SPRINGFIELD - While Texas is in the midst of a significant outbreak of West Nile virus, and many other states are reporting an increase in infections, there have been very few cases in New England so far this year, says Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center. He noted that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Aug. 21, 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds or mosquitoes, with 1,118 of those cases diagnosed in humans, resulting in 41 deaths.


The good news is that West Nile virus – spread when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then bites a human – most often results in only flu-like symptoms. West Nile virus rarely results in death. Only 1 in every 150 people infected, especially those over 50 and the very young, will develop more serious illness from the virus. Also, those infected usually develop lifelong immunity.


Unfortunately, says Dr. Skiest, there is no vaccine to prevent the disease in humans and there is no specific treatment. “The best defense is protection,” says Dr. Skiest, who offers the following tips to avoid infectious mosquito bites:


  • Consider staying indoors around dawn and dusk when the chances of being bitten by a mosquito are greatest.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors during the evening hours, and protect yourself by using an insect repellant containing DEET.
  • Because mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, it is especially important to drain standing pools of water on your property, including water that accumulates in buckets, flower pots, pool covers, and even some birdbaths.
  • Repair any torn screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes from entering your home.


Dr. Skiest notes symptoms, which are nonspecific to West Nile virus, may include:


  • fever
  • headache
  • confusion
  • achiness
  • fatigue
  • and sometimes rash and swollen lymph nodes.

“Call your doctor if you develop any symptoms of a possible West Nile virus infection, especially if you have been bitten by a mosquito,” says Dr. Skiest.