Warmer weather is here and it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from pesky mosquito bites. Not only are bites uncomfortable, but the mosquito that bites you may also give you West Nile virus.
Although the chances of contracting West Nile virus are generally low, there are still risks. There are simple and effective measures you can take to reduce these risks.
The risk of being infected can fluctuate from year to year. Overall, the risk is greatest during the warm summer months: “mosquito season”. In Canada, this can start as early as mid-April and last until the first hard frost in late September or October. The majority of human infections occur between July and early September.
Human cases of West Nile virus infection have been reported in parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. If you’re planning to travel and spend time outdoors in these, or any other areas of Canada, remember to protect yourself against mosquito bites.
Although there have been cases reported from Yukon Territory, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, these have all been related to travel outside these jurisdictions.
The majority of people infected with West Nile virus (approximately 70-80 per cent) have no symptoms and do not feel sick. When an infection does cause mild illness symptoms will usually appear within 2-15 days.
Mild symptoms may include:
•swollen lymph glands
While anyone infected with West Nile virus can be at risk of developing more severe symptoms and health effects, such as meningitis and encephalitis, the elderly and those with underlying conditions and/or weaker immune systems are at greater risk. Fewer than 1 per cent of people infected with the virus will develop severe symptoms and health effects.
Some patients with severe illness could experience a variety of health effects for many months to years after their initial illness.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine for West Nile virus.
Serious cases are treated with supportive therapies (treatments to help ease symptoms). For example, these can include intravenous fluids, respiratory support, and prevention of secondary infections. These may require hospital or nursing care.
Canadians are encouraged to spend time outdoors and be active. You can protect yourself against mosquito bites and West Nile virus by following these simple measures:
•use insect repellent that contains DEET* or Icaridin** or other approved ingredients (always read and follow the directions on the insect repellent container, especially when using on young children)
•wear light-coloured clothing, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants
•make sure screen doors and windows are in good repair
•get rid of as much standing water as you can from around your home and property, because mosquitoes need water to breed
*DEET has been safely used in North America for more than 55 years. Insect repellents containing DEET are safe when used as directed.
** In 2012, Health Canada registered Icaridin as a safe and effective insect repellent against certain pests, such as mosquitoes and ticks, when used as directed.