Protect yourself from West Nile virus

Dr. Alicia Lagasca

Dr. Alicia Lagasca

With several cases across the country and a recent death linked to West Nile virus in North Carolina, state and local officials are encouraging residents to take precaution and become aware of mosquito-borne illnesses.

“West Nile virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito,” said Dr. Alicia Lagasca, a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. “Mosquitos usually acquire the virus through biting an infected bird, although other animals such as dogs, cats, horses and bats have been implicated.”

The peak season for all mosquito borne-illnesses is August, September and October, though cases of West Nile virus have historically been very rare in North Carolina. According to Lagasca, neurological complications, such as meningitis and encephalitis, only occur 1 percent of the time in West Nile patients. Most infections do not show any sign of symptoms and only 20 percent of people infected will develop a mild, flu-like illness.

Lagasca recommends that people see a physician if they believe they have contracted the illness and their symptoms include confusion, weakness or numbness of extremities, difficulty speaking and severe headache or neck pain.

“Persons older than 50, particularly those over 65, have the highest risk of severe disease, such as encephalitis and meningitis,” added Legasca. “So while it is rare to have a fatal outcome, it is possible, and taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites is key in prevention,”

Reducing your time outdoors is easiest way to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses, but if going outdoors in inevitable, Lagasca suggests using repellent that contains DEET. Residents should also consider installing or repairing screen doors in order to keep mosquitos away and use air conditioning when possible.

Eliminating potential mosquito breeding grounds is also helpful when trying to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses. Lagasca said people should empty standing water from flower pots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths at least once a week.