State health officials are reminding Hoosiers to stay vigilant in protecting themselves from West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Two human cases of West Nile virus have been reported in the state; one each in Allen and Marion counties. In addition, mosquito groups in 31 counties have tested positive for the virus.
“These two cases, along with the recent increase in positive West Nile virus mosquitoes, do cause some concern,” said Jennifer House, DVM, veterinary epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health. “Although normally the virus causes only mild disease, a small number of people will develop more severe illness. The best thing people can do to prevent getting infected with West Nile virus is to take some simple steps to protect themselves from being bitten by a mosquito.”
According to Dr. House, these steps include:
- Avoiding places where mosquitoes are biting;
- Applying insect repellent containing DEET, picaradin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to clothes and exposed skin;
- Installing or repairing screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of the home; and
- When possible, wearing pants and long sleeves, especially if walking in woody or marshy areas.
Dr. House says the West Nile virus usually causes West Nile fever, a milder form of the illness, which can include fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands, or a rash. A small number of individuals will develop a more severe form of the disease with encephalitis or meningitis and other neurological syndromes, including flaccid muscle paralysis.
Dr. House says it is also a good idea to take steps to rid properties of potential mosquito breeding grounds by:
- Discarding old tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or other containers that can hold water;
- Repairing failed septic systems;
- Drilling holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors;
- Keeping grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed;
- Cleaning clogged roof gutters, particularly if leaves tend to plug up the drains;
- Frequently replacing the water in pet bowls;
- Flushing ornamental fountains and birdbaths periodically; and
- Aerating ornamental pools, or stock them with predatory fish.
Horse owners should have their horses vaccinated for both West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis. There is no vaccine and no cure for West Nile virus or Eastern equine encephalitis for humans. Individuals with severe disease can be provided supportive medical care.