West Nile virus is an illness that is spread by mosquitoes. While it has been common in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for decades, it first appeared in the U.S. in 1999. It has since traveled westward across the U.S. and now is in Colorado.
Mosquitoes become infected with the virus after biting an infected animal, usually birds. Drought conditions may make it worse since birds and mosquitoes will share the same few watering holes, even in backyards. When an infected mosquito bites us, it can pass on the virus. People infected with West Nile Virus are not contagious, and cannot transmit the virus to other people. Some cases of West Nile Virus transmission during organ transplants and blood transfusions have been reported.
All residents of areas with West Nile Virus activity are at risk, but people over 50 seem to be especially vulnerable to severe forms of the disease. People who become ill have symptoms that generally appear 3 to 14 days after a bite. Most will have symptoms including fever, headache, body aches, and skin rashes or swollen lymph nodes. However, this virus can cause serious illnesses including encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and/or meningitis (swelling of the brain’s lining). Symptoms may include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, tremors, disorientation, convulsions, and coma. Severe infections can result in permanent brain damage or, in rare cases, even death. People with these symptoms need to seek medical attention immediately.
Dead birds are not needed for testing at this time. A dead bird can be disposed of safely by picking it up with a shovel or rubber gloves, double bagging in plastic and disposing in the trash. Dead birds should not be handled directly. Wash your hands afterward.
- Fight the Bite Colorado: general public information and prevention tips www.fightthebitecolorado.com
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: public and physician information, national statistics, prevention www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm
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