BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. With August and September being the time when mosquitoes thrive, Harish Moorjani, an infectious disease doctor at Hudson Infectious Disease clinic in Briarcliff, said the most important point for avoiding West Nile disease is to prevent mosquito bites.
"There's nothing like prevention. Once you get the illness it'll take a lot out of you, you end up in the hospital, you may end up in on disability," Moorjani said. "Get rid of standing water around your home, get your screens repaired. People have to take preventative measures."
Moorjani said he has seen one or two cases of West Nile per year in the last few years, and no cases so far this year.
West Nile, a type of virus known as flavivirus, was identified in 1937 in Uganda. It was discovered in the United States, in New York, in the summer of 1999 and since then has spread throughout the United States.
West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes have been confirmed in cities and town in Connecticut and Westchester County. The disease is most common during August and early September, which is when mosquitoes carrying the highest amounts of the virus are abundant. As the weather cools, mosquitoes die off and the risk of infection decreases.
About 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus recover on their own without much problem, Moorjani said. They may not even know they were infected.
The other 20 percent of those infected, typically elderly people above the age of 60, develop illness including meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord, encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, and even paralysis.
"The virus can spread to any organ, but it is more dangerous to the brain and nervous system," Moorjani said. "Usually if a person does get sick, they're sick for 10 to 14 days. Some people recover, some have residual damage."
To avoid mosquitoes, stay inside when they feed, which is typically between dusk and dawn. If you are outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants as well as socks and shoes. Here are the Centers for Disease Control's tips for avoiding West Nile virus:
Use mosquito repellant only on exposed skin and/or clothing;
Use repellants that contain10 percent or less DEET for children and no more than 30 percent DEET for adults. Don't use repellents with DEET on infants and small children. When using repellent, do not spray toward face or under clothes. Apply with hands away from cuts, eyes and mouth.
Reducing the number of mosquitoes in your backyard can help decrease the spread of West Nile virus. Cleaning roof gutters or any areas where water collects will help to eliminate their breeding grounds.
If you do become infected with West Nile virus, you might experience minor symptoms, such as low-grade fever and mild headache. Or, you might not experience any symptoms at all. Less than 1 percent of the people sickened develop life-threatening illnesses, such as West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis that include inflammation of the brain, the CDC says.
The mild signs and symptoms of West Nile virus infection are fever, headaches, body aches and fatigue that generally go away on their own. But severe signs and symptoms like severe headaches, disorientation, lack of coordination, convulsions, tremors or sudden weakness require immediate attention.
The CDC states relatively few reports of infection in dogs and cats. Check with your veterinarian about how to protect them from mosquitoes.
There is currently a vaccine for West Nile for horses, but no vaccine is available for humans, Moorjani said.
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