LANDSTUHL, Germany – Public Health Command Europe’s entomology department has several tips to mitigate the risk of getting exposed to West Nile Virus.
West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito, not through human-to-human casual contact, according to PHCE. This disease can have a serious impact in a low percentage of cases. There is no vaccine or treatment for WNV besides supportive care, so you should remain vigilant to protect yourself against mosquito bites.
"The WNV transmitting mosquito (Culex species) is a dusk and dawn biting mosquito, and their occurrence around our home is weather dependent," said Capt. Megan Heineman, PHCE's Chief of the Entomological Sciences Program.
Mosquitoes are present in Europe as long as the days are warm and there is rainfall, which is typically from April to November.
According to Heineman, artificial water-sources like pools, rain barrels, tires and automatic watering systems can rule out the necessity of rain but the mosquito population can taper off after a few consecutive freezing nights.
Most people who are infected with WNV develop no symptoms. However, approximately 20 percent of infected people develop febrile illness characterized by symptoms of fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. Less than one percent of infected individuals develop serious neurologic illness, which can be life-threatening, according to Heineman.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus' symptoms typically appear within two to six days after being bitten, but can develop up to 14 days after exposure. Avoid scratching mosquito bites and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce itching. Seek medical attention if the symptoms develop within two weeks of being in affected areas.
To avoid mosquito bites, PHCE recommends the following:
- Cover exposed skin by wearing light colored long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
- Use insect repellent on exposed skin that contains DEET when outdoors, use a premixed formulation if you need repellent and sunscreen.
- If active duty, utilize the DoD repellent system and wear your permethrin treated military uniform properly.
- Make sure you have door and window screens installed and ensure that they are fully intact.
- Use a fan in your bedroom blowing over your bed to protect you while you sleep.
- Eliminate all standing water in your yard and work area.
- Remove old tires, flowerpots, and abandoned swimming pools and clean out rain gutters of leaf litter.
- Change water in pet bowls, birdbaths and children's pools at least once a week.
The reduction, elimination and treatment of mosquito breeding areas is the best and most effective technique for mosquito control.
Vigilance is key. Mosquito larvae don’t need much water to survive, according to Heineman. The larvae can survive in a water-filled bottle cap!