Health Watch -- West Nile Still a Threat

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.


The end of summer doesn't mean the end of the West Nile virus threat.

Summer may be officially over, but mosquitoes may still be biting, which means that West Nile virus is still a potential threat. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say older adults are most at risk from this infection, while children have a lower risk.

This illness has been spreading across the United States in the past few years and has now reached the West Coast. West Nile virus is carried by birds and spread to humans by mosquitoes. You don't catch the virus from someone else who has the virus or from contact with birds.

Some people who come down with the virus after being bitten by a mosquito may develop a mild to moderate flu-like illness. Symptoms may include fever, headache and body aches. Some people may become more seriously ill as the virus attacks the nervous system and causes muscle weakness, brain swelling and possibly even paralysis or death. Fatalities from West Nile virus are rare.

Dr. Elizabeth Race, an infectious diseases expert at UT Southwestern, suggests that people over the age of 70 be especially careful about avoiding mosquito bites. Limit or avoid outdoor activities like gardening around dawn or dusk - the most active time for mosquitoes. When you're outdoors, use a mosquito repellent containing DEET. To hamper mosquito breeding, get rid of standing water around your house, change water in birdbaths or pet dishes daily, and keep trash containers covered.

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Oct. 2004

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