In recent years, mosquito season has been more than an annoyance. In some cases, mosquitoes can be a danger lurking in your own back yard carrying dangerous viruses such as West Nile. Even though it was discovered in 1937 in the West Nile District of Uganda, the West Nile Virus probably didn't make its way to the United States until 1999. In 2006, 177 people nationwide died from the disease according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which reported more than 4,200 cases last year.
"West Nile virus has been in the news for the last several years, but prevention is definitely the key to fighting it," said Daniel New, M.D., Infectious Disease Physician at Children's Hospital. "We look for symptoms in children, but it is important to remember that less than 1% of mosquitoes in any areas where carrier mosquitoes have been found are actually infected with West Nile virus."
The CDC reports that most infected people never show any signs of the illness, but about 20 percent may experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. In a small number of cases, the virus causes sometimes fatal West Nile encephalitis or meningitis (inflammations of the brain or of the membranes around the spinal cord or brain).
There is no specific treatment for encephalitis other than supportive therapy (such as hospitalization, intravenous fluids and respiratory support) for severe cases. Antibiotics will not work because a virus, not bacteria, causes West Nile virus.
Parents can help their children avoid mosquito bites by applying insect repellant containing DEET prior to them children going outside, staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active and dressing children in long sleeves and long pants.
The following are additional recommendations to help eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds:
· Get rid of old tires, tin cans, buckets, or any water-holding containers.
· Fill in or drain any low places in the yard; keep drains, ditches, and culverts clean of weeds and trash so water will drain properly.
· Cover trash containers.
· Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets.
· Empty wading pools once a week or store in between uses. Make sure your backyard pool is properly cared for while on vacation.
· Fill in tree rot holes and hollow stumps that hold water with sand or concrete.
· Change water in bird baths, plant pots or dip trays at least once a week.
· Keep grass cut short and shrubbery well trimmed around the house.
· Clean out guttering so water drains properly.
"If your child has any of the symptoms of West Nile virus, see your child's pediatrician right away," Dr. New said. "The doctor will determine your child's risk, based on where you live or whether you have traveled to an area where infected mosquitoes have been found. If the physician suspects West Nile Virus, a blood sample will be drawn and sent to a lab to determine if infection has occurred."
For more information on West Nile Virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control Web site at www.cdc.gov, the Children's Hospital Web site at www.etch.com or contact the Children's Hospital Community Relations Department at (865) 541-8165.
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