How to protect yourself from West Nile Virus
If you plan to spend some time outside in the evening this summer, you’ll want to bring along some bug spray.
Since mid-May, most of Kansas has persistently been under a moderate risk advisory for West Nile Virus, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment mosquito surveillance report.
A moderate risk is one step down from a high risk. This level of risk indicates there are multiple carrier mosquitoes detected in the area. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports that this risk level usually means someone has already been infected or it is likely that someone will become infected.
There has yet to be a confirmed case of West Nile in a person so far this year in Kansas, but it is the most common mosquito-vectored illness in the continental United States. Last year the Kansas Department of Health and Environment recorded 42 presumptive cases of West Nile Virus in Kansas.
“Even though there are currently no confirmed cases of WNV in Kansas, it’s important to continue to stay vigilant,” Kristi Pankratz, director of communications for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in an email.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control has recorded three cases in Oklahoma and one case in Arkansas.
Pankratz said the risk for contracting West Nile Virus depends on several factors, but the key variables used to identify the likelihood are time of year, the number of days with “sufficient heat” and the number and location of infected Culex mosquitoes, which can spread the West Nile.
The Culex mosquito is different from the mosquito that vectors Zika, predominantly the Aedes species. Zika is not considered a risk in the continental United States as there hasn’t been a recorded transmission since 2017.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also takes historical data trends into account.
The increased number of potentially-infected mosquitoes doesn’t necessarily mean more people will become infected, Pankratz said.
Part of the reason there’s more of a risk this year is due to the flood and increased rainfall across the state.
“Floods throughout the state will cause an increase in the mosquito populations over the next several weeks,” Pankratz said. “An increase in temperature means it will take less time for mosquitoes to mature from egg to biting adults.”
Many companies advertise lawn treatments or other remedies to ward off mosquitoes, but Pankratz said the best way to prevent a mosquito-vectored illness is to follow the “three D’s”: drain, dress and Deet.
The first step, Pankratz said, is to drain any standing water because that’s where mosquitoes prefer to live and breed. Next, you should dress in clothing that covers the skin when possible. Finally, use an insect repellent with the tested repellent ingredients.
“When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women,” Pankratz said.
But the best way to prevent mosquito bites, Pankratz said, is to “limit outdoor activities when mosquitoes are most active,” which is dusk to dawn.
“Regardless of the West Nile Virus risk level for your area, there is no such thing as being ‘risk-free.’ Take precautions when you are out in areas where mosquitoes are present,” Pankratz said.
There is not a vaccine or treatment for West Nile Virus in humans.
If you do contract West Nile Virus, you’re very unlikely to show symptoms let alone serious symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 1 in every 5 people infected will show minor symptoms, like fever or headache. Even fewer people will develop serious symptoms.
Pankratz said if you think you may have contracted West Nile Virus, you should immediately “go seek medical assistance.”