What You Should Know about the West Nile Virus

by Garreth Myers

The very mention of the West Nile Virus conjures up images of some deadly third world epidemic causing virus, like deadly Ebola virus. It's probably a result of our long standing perception of Africa as this dark mysterious continent with exotic yet terrifying secrets. Tales of strange, hitherto unknown diseases striking down some of the early European explorers still haunt us to this day and hearing about an outbreak of a disease that sounds like something out of a history book can still spread panic.

But does the West Nile Virus outbreak really warrant such reactions and how much of what you've heard is really true? Popular perceptions of the virus as a deadly unstoppable force are just as untrue as colonial perceptions of Africa as uncivilized and backward. The recent outbreaks across the United States have brought attention back to the virus, which has made its presence felt from Michigan to Texas. While Michigan has already recorded 60 confirmed cases & two fatalities, Texas has suffered 537 cases and 19 fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there have been over 1100 cases recorded across 47 states, with 41 fatalities.

The West Nile Virus may not pose as great a threat as is sometimes thought, but it's not one that we should take lightly. This is particularly true, considering how easily the spread of the disease can be controlled with a little effort, while a negligent attitude could on the other hand have catastrophic effects. Here are some of the common misperceptions about the West Nile Virus:

  • Anyone bitten by a mosquito contracts the infection after which he/she may spread the infection: To begin with, the percentage of mosquitoes that actually carry the infection is very low, and the risk of infection from a bite from one of these mosquitoes is still lower, as studies reveal that less than 1% of those bitten by a carrier mosquito actually become ill. The idea that you could get infected from contact with someone suffering from the disease is preposterous, as the condition is not contagious at all.
  • The risk of infection upon exposure is equal among all individuals: Elderly individuals are known to be at a much higher risk as compared to young healthy adults.
  • Mosquitoes breed in water and so all water bodies are potential breeding grounds: While mosquitoes do require water bodies to breed, they require stagnant pools of water and shallow water bodies for the purpose. Water that is flowing or subjected to frequent disturbances is far less likely to support mosquitoes.
  • Fumigation and spraying are effective methods to counter the mosquito problem: While fumigation and aerial spraying does help to control the mosquito population to some extent, it only kills adult mosquitoes. In addition, the mosquitoes that are killed are only those that happen to be flying when the spraying takes place. This means that process needs to be repeated frequently through both spring and summer. This can be a rather expensive procedure and the results still leave much to be desired. Natural vegetation like shrubbery and hedges can interfere with the process, as do the various man made structures.

The most effective strategy to counter the increased outbreaks is to control and restrict the growth and spread of mosquitoes, by treating or getting rid of stagnant water bodies and taking steps for personal protection. You can find more information on the safety measures on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The West Nile Virus shouldn't be a cause for panic, but it does require an educated response.

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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