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  Home » Newsletter » West Nile Virus — More Than Just a Bug Bite, August 2013

West Nile Virus — More Than Just a Bug Bite

West Nile Virus — More Than Just a Bug BiteMosquito bites are a common summertime nuisance that can cause more than irksome itching. Some mosquitoes pose a more serious health problem if they carry West Nile virus. According to the Northeast District Department of Health (NDDH), mosquitoes in five Connecticut towns have tested positive for West Nile virus as of early August. We’ll take a closer look at West Nile virus by answering some of your frequently asked questions from the CDC. We’ll also share suggestions from the Mayo Clinic on ways you can protect yourself so a pesky problem doesn’t turn into a hazardous one.

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile virus is an arbovirus commonly spread by infected mosquitoes.

How do people get infected?

Most people get infected with West Nile virus when bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus.

How do mosquitoes become infected?

Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to humans.

Is there a vaccine available to protect against West Nile virus?

There is no West Nile virus vaccine available for people.

How soon do people show signs of illness after getting bitten?

The incubation period is usually 2 to 6 days but can range up to 14 days.

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus disease?

Fortunately, most people who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. Some people who become infected will develop flu-like symptoms with a fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus recover completely without any medical intervention necessary.

Less than 1% of people who are infected will become seriously ill and develop neurological illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). The symptoms of more severe illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, seizures, or paralysis. West Nile virus is not contagious and therefore, cannot be spread from person to person.

Who is at risk for serious illness if infected with West Nile virus?

People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and weakened immune systems are at greater risk for serious illness. The elderly are also at greater risk.

How is West Nile virus disease diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms identified by a physician and blood or spinal fluid tests. These tests typically detect antibodies that the immune system makes against the viral infection.

What is the treatment for West Nile virus disease?

There are no medications to treat West Nile virus infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to reduce fever and relieve some symptoms. People with milder symptoms typically recover on their own, with the aid of over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce fever and relieve some symptoms.

In more severe cases, patients often need to be hospitalized to receive treatment, such as intravenous fluids, pain medication, and nursing care.

When do most cases of West Nile virus disease occur?

Most people are infected from June through September.


Prevention is the most effective way to avoid West Nile virus. Before heading outdoors take extra care to do the following:

  • Apply mosquito repellent containing an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent to your skin and clothing. Repellents containing DEET, lemon eucalyptus, or picaridin are most effective. Always follow the directions on the package, especially when using on children.
  • Avoid outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most prevalent — dawn, dusk and early evening.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and socks especially if you must be outdoors during the hours when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors.
  • Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by removing standing water from puddles, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.

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