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Protect yourself from the threat of West Nile virus | Health

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Protect yourself from the threat of West Nile virus
Protect yourself from the threat of West Nile virus

Positive lab results for human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) have been reported in Texas and Mississippi so far this year, and the virus is probably on its way to Arkansas, health officials say.

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has not recorded any cases of WNV infection so far this year, but ADH officials say that it is only a matter of time.

 According to James Phillips, MD, Infectious Disease Branch Chief at ADH, it is not surprising to see illness from mosquitoes at this time of year. “We are concerned that people may have forgotten that WNV is a problem in Arkansas, but the fact is, we have had the greatest number of cases in the months of August and September over the last few years,” Phillips said.

“We want people to remember to take their mosquito repellent with them when they go outside this summer,” Phillips added.

In Arkansas for 2010 there were seven cases of WNV and one fatality recorded. In the United States last year, there were 1,021 cases and 57 fatalities recorded. The elderly and those with chronic illness are at greatest risk for WNV infection.

To protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites, make sure all windows and doors have screens which are in good repair.  You should also stay indoors when mosquitoes are more active—from dusk to dawn.  When it is necessary to be outdoors during this time of the day, wear protective clothing with long sleeves and long pants legs and use mosquito repellent.

Use the following precautions when using insect repellents:

  • Do not apply insect repellents directly to children.  Apply to your own hands and then put on the child, avoiding the child’s face and hands.
  • Do not allow young children to apply insect repellents themselves.
  • DO NOT use insect repellent on infants younger than 2 months of age.
  • Use concentrations of DEET that are no higher than 30 percent for children up to 18 years of age.
  • Concentrations higher than 50 percent DEET do not further decrease the risk of mosquito bites above and beyond that of lower concentrations, but do have a longer duration of effect.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has not recommended using picaridin or oil of lemon in children under 18 years of age.
  • Store out of the reach of children and read all instructions on the label before applying.
  • Avoid prolonged and excessive use of insect repellents.
  • Do not apply insect repellents in enclosed areas.
  • Do not apply insect repellents directly to your face.
  • Wash all treated skin and clothing after returning indoors.
  • If you believe you or your child are experiencing an adverse reaction to an insect repellent, wash the treated area immediately and call your health care provider.


Here are some facts about mosquitoes and the risks they pose to Arkansans:

  • When mosquitoes feed on an infected bird or mammal, they may pick up the virus.  The virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Not all mosquitoes have the virus in them, but certainly, the more mosquito bites one gets, the greater the risk of becoming infected.  Most people infected with WNV do not get sick.  Less than one percent of persons bitten by an infected mosquito develop severe illness.  Older individuals (fifty years and over) are at greater risk of developing severe illness and encephalitis.
  • There is no specific treatment for WNV infections; avoiding mosquitoes is the best prevention.
  • Symptoms of infection typically begin within 14 days following the insect bite and consist of fever, headache, rash, muscle and joint aches, listlessness and possibly encephalitis (swelling of the brain which is the most dangerous symptom).

WNV was first recognized in the Western Hemisphere in the summer of 1999.  The virus spread quickly across the country.  During the year 2002, there were over 4,000 human cases in the US that resulted in 284 deaths.


Important Facts About Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes breed in standing water.  This includes water in small containers, such as tree holes, cans, and large bodies of water like lakes or marshes.  These breeding places create a variety of mosquito problems. To help stop mosquitoes from breeding, Arkansans should:

  • Dispose of cans, plastic containers, ceramic posts or similar water-holding containers.
  • Remove discarded tires from surrounding property.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.  Make sure roof gutters drain properly and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.  Change the water in bird baths frequently.
  • Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
  • Drain water from swimming pool covers.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property.

To learn more about the West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health website at www.healthy.arkansas.gov .