West Nile Virus: What You Need to Know

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The recent West Nile virus outbreak is on track to be the worst in U.S. history since the disease first arrived here in 1999. States across the country have reported outbreaks. Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Michigan, California and Ohio have been the hardest hit.

Though many cases of West Nile have mild, flu-like symptoms, the virus can lead to more severe illnesses, such as encephalitis, meningitis and other neurological problems, and can be fatal. We want to make sure you know what to look for and how to protect yourself.

“What is West Nile virus?”

West Nile virus is carried by birds and spread to humans by mosquitos infected with the disease. Not all mosquitos are infected and not all people bitten by an infected mosquito will get West Nile. Symptoms include fever, headache, body ache, stomach ache and rashes, and can be treated with over-the-counter remedies. High fever, neck stiffness, neurological or respiratory problems can be a sign of more serious West Nile-related illnesses.

When will the West Nile threat end? Nighttime temperatures must consistently fall below 55 degrees Fahrenheit before it will be over. That means some areas of the United States won’t see mosquito season wind down until October or later. Of course, areas with warm, muggy conditions year‐round—such as southern Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico and popular winter destinations such as Mexico and the Bahamas—never see an end to mosquito season.

But just because mosquitos carrying West Nile virus may be swarming where you live or travel doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy relaxing or adventuring outdoors. Take these smart steps to naturally reduce your risk of mosquito bites—West Nile-infected or not.