Health Watch -- West Nile Prevention

Health Watch is a Public Service of the   Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Now that the weather's warming up, we need to start thinking about West Nile virus again.

It's probably been a while since you've heard about West Nile virus, but that doesn't mean it's gone away. The virus is primarily spread to humans by mosquito bites, and these insects are dormant during the winter months. But as the weather grows warmer, experts predict that the virus will return. Since the virus first entered the United States in 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that there have been more than 4,000 cases of the disease and 263 deaths linked to it.

In most people, the virus causes mild symptoms, if they have any symptoms at all. In more severe cases, people may have high fever, chills, nausea, headaches and joint pain. The illness can be fatal, but deaths caused by the virus are very rare.

The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to avoid mosquito bites. Dr. James Luby, an infectious disease expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says you should apply an insect repellent containing DEET when you go outdoors. Help cut down on the mosquito population by emptying any containers of standing water around your home. That limits the number of places mosquitoes can breed. Air condition your home during the summer. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when you're outdoors, and treat the clothing with insect repellent. Mosquitoes can bite through thin fabrics. Finally, avoid going outdoors during prime mosquito times - dawn, dusk and early evening.