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Recent reports of West Nile Virus in the area is no cause for panic

September 16, 2015

“It’s no reason to panic,” said Dr. Jose Martagon-Villamil, an infectious disease specialist at Baystate Medical Center.

The Baystate doctor was referring to recent reports in the news concerning West Nile Virus, which is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. A man in the greater Springfield area was reported last week as the second human to contract West Nile Virus in the state. Now mosquito samples taken in West Springfield have tested positive for West Nile Virus.

“It is important to reassure the community that only a small minority of cases become serious,” said Dr. Martagon-Villamil.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus

About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever without other symptoms. Some will also develop a headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting and diarrhea, or more commonly, a rash.

While they will have a full recovery, fatigue and weakness may continue for weeks to even months.

The good news, noted Dr. Martagon-Villamil, is that less than 1% of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal neurological illness such as encephalitis or meningitis. Symptoms of more severe illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis.

How to avoid mosquito bites

Dr. Martagon-Villamil and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following tips to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-methane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. To optimize safety and effectiveness, repellents should be used according to the label instructions.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent will give extra protection. Don’t apply repellents containing permethrin directly to skin. Do not spray repellent on the skin under your clothing.
  • Beware of peak mosquito biting times. Take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing from dusk to dawn or even consider avoiding outdoor activities at all during these times.
  • Mosquito-proof your home and surroundings. Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside. Also, empty standing water from flower pots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths on a regular basis to reduce mosquito populations.

There is no cure or vaccine for West Nile Virus, which is commonly treated with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

“Keep your eyes on the news for any updates of West Nile Virus being reported locally by area public health departments, and take appropriate precautions,” said Dr. Martagon-Villamil. “West Nile Virus first arrived in the United States back in the early 2000s and is now endemic in our bird, horse and mosquito populations. We should be accustomed to hearing these reports by now, especially in the late summer months when the West Nile season peaks.