West Nile virus is a relatively new health threat. The vast majority of human infections happen when a mosquito that has bitten an infected bird bites a person. Other rare ways you can get West Nile virus include through a blood transfusion, a donated organ or handling the virus when you have a cut or puncture on your skin. Mothers can also give it to their babies through pregnancy or breastfeeding.
People with West Nile virus can have no symptoms at all, or they can experience flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, muscle aches), a rash or swollen lymph glands. A few people, however, can have a serious reaction to the virus and may have long-term health problems or even die as a result.
Serious long-term problems that are possible include:
People with a weakened immune system are more likely to have a serious reaction, but it could happen to anyone.
The serious symptoms of West Nile virus
- Severe headache
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Muscle weakness
Most people aren’t at risk of being bitten by a mosquito infected with West Nile virus; however, you should take action to avoid mosquitos anyway.
To lower your risk of mosquito bites, do the following:
- Avoid being outside at dawn and dusk (times of high mosquito activity)
- Clean out eavestroughs
- Empty pools of standing water in your yard
- Make sure door and window screens fit snugly and don’t have holes in them
- Use insect repellent
- Wear clothing that is light coloured and covers your arms and legs
- Wear a hat
You probably don’t have a high risk of exposure to West Nile virus, but there’s a lot we still don’t know about this disease. Always take precautions to avoid mosquito bites so you can also avoid this dangerous, new disease.