West Nile: Staying Safe in the Outdoors

West Nile: Staying Safe in the Outdoors

Spring, summer and fall are all times of year for you and your family to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Maybe your family likes to go camping. Maybe your family likes the beach. Or maybe your family just likes spending time in your own backyard.

It doesn’t matter what type of outdoor activities you and your family enjoy, as long as you know how to protect yourself. This past winter was one of the worst winters in history, and the massive amounts of snow coupled with the many rainstorms we’ve seen have made it a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are more than just annoying bugs that leave you with red and itchy bumps all over your skin. Because mosquitoes travel from person to person and animal to animal, they carry a variety of different diseases that can easily be spread. One of the most common viruses carried by mosquitoes is the West Nile virus.

Although it has been around since the early 1900s, West Nile became an epidemic back in 2012, spreading from Europe to North America and taking the lives of 286 people in the United States alone. Today, the West Nile virus has been making a prevalent comeback, with cases of it being reported in Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas.

In most instances, someone infected with the West Nile virus will be perfectly fine. In fact, 80 percent of individuals who have been exposed to the West Nile virus have never had any symptoms. Some people infected experience a high fever that goes away after a few days, and only about one percent of people infected with the disease will experience serious neurologic illness that could lead to death.

Even though the chances of the West Nile virus turning serious or deadly to you or one of your family members, you still want to be protected when you are enjoying some time outdoors. If you will be outside, use the following tips to prevent catching the West Nile virus.

Know the signs and symptoms of West Nile.

The first step in prevention is knowing how to recognize and treat West Nile virus. Although there is no exact cure or vaccine against the virus, educating yourself on what to look for and what to do can be a lifesaver.

In most cases, individuals with West Nile virus will not experience any symptoms; however, some will. About 20 percent of people infected with West Nile Virus will experience a high fever and possibly a headache, diarrhea or vomiting. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, use a cold compress on them to try and reduce the fever. If they experience a rash, either at the site of the bite or all over their body, use a hydrocortisone cream to eliminate swelling and itchiness. Although these symptoms will typically disappear on their own and the infected individual will make a full recovery, it’s best to contact your doctor.

Sometimes, the symptoms can be worse. Less than one percent of people infected will suffer from neurological illness, including disorientation, serious headaches, seizures, coma, and paralysis. Some people with serious West Nile infections will be able to fully recover; however, 10 percent of people with serious West Nile infection will die. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, they need to be taken to the hospital immediately.

Use bug repellent when outdoors.

One of the best ways to prevent West Nile virus is to use bug repellent when outdoors. Putting bug spray on your body and clothes will deter mosquitoes from biting you, and with the different varieties of bug sprays available, you can choose which one is right for your needs. You should also use citronella candles around your patio or outdoor area to keep bugs away as well as a bug lamp. You can even spray your yard down with a bug repellent that will keep mosquitoes from hatching and living in your yard.

Wear protective clothing.

Although warm weather may be the time for tank tops and shorts, this skin exposure is putting you at greater risk for mosquito bites. Instead, opt to wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and gym shoes when outdoors. Light fabrics will keep you cool but will also protect you by keeping the mosquitoes away. Plus, wearing protective clothing and bug spray can be a major defense mechanism.

Steer clear of standing water.

Mosquitoes live and thrive in wet areas, so keep them out of your yard by eliminating any standing water. Invest in a sump pump to remove built up water from your yard, or create an underground irrigation system to help water flow away from your home. If you’re camping, try to set up camp as far away from lakes or other bodies of water, as the mosquitoes will be more prevalent in these areas.

Mosquito-proof your home.

Even though your chances of mosquito bites are higher when outdoors, those pesky bugs can make their way into your home if you’re not careful. To eliminate this issue, make sure to mosquito-proof your home. Make sure all window screens are secure and fix any tears you may find. Don’t leave doors or windows without screens open for extended periods of time, as this will give the mosquitoes an opportunity to get inside.

Know who is at risk.

Mosquitoes don’t have a preference as to whom they bite and who they infect, but some people are at greater risk of having a serious reaction to the West Nile virus. Young children, elderly individuals, and those suffering from conditions such as diabetes, cancer and kidney disease are at greater risk of having the West Nile virus become serious or even fatal. Make sure these individuals are taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves when outside.

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