Know the facts and protect yourself from the West Nile Virus

Dear Editor:

Spring has not yet sprung but the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services has in terms of its preparation for another potential season of dealing with the West Nile Virus. Don’t be alarmed. We are prepared, and you can be, too.

First, it’s important to know that even if you live in an area with birds and mosquitoes which carry the West Nile Virus, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be infected. In areas where mosquitoes do carry the virus, very few are infected. And if the mosquito is infected, less than 1 percent of people who are bitten, and become infected, will become severely ill.

While there has been much said about the disease with the exotic name over the past two summers, I want to reinforce key facts so you can familiarize yourself with precautions to protect you and your family during the warm weather.

The West Nile Virus is one of a family of viruses that can be transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected with the West Nile Virus by feeding on birds that have the virus in their bloodstream. Once a mosquito is infected with the virus it can transmit the virus to humans, birds or horses through a bite. The West Nile Virus is not transmitted from person to person.

There’s no evidence to date suggesting that humans can get West Nile Virus by simply touching a dead bird. However, I don’t recommend touching a dead bird without gloves for sanitary reasons. If you find one on your property, contact your local health department for details on what to do, and be prepared to hear that the health department may already have gained enough samples for your area.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito don’t ever develop symptoms. But if symptoms do occur, they usually appear five to 15 days from the time of the bite. A trip to your doctor is recommended if mild symptoms like low-grade fever, headache and swollen lymph glands appear. In severe cases, symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, muscle weakness, disorientation, brain inflammation (encephalitis), coma and in rare instances, death.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile Virus. Patients with the more severe cases are treated with supportive therapy, which can include hospitalization, intravenous fluids and respiratory support.

And keep in mind these common sense steps to reduce you and your family’s risk. At dawn and dusk, try to wear long pants and long sleeved shirts outdoors. Use mosquito repellent outside following label instructions and make sure that screens on windows and doors are in good condition. Rid your property of standing water, old tires and blocked gutters and report mosquito concerns to your local mosquito control agency. But remember children can play outdoors without restrictions and you should enjoy the spring and summer.

For more information or to check out the New Jersey West Nile Virus 2001 Action Plan visit the Department of Health and Senior Services website at

Additional information about other New Jersey departments’ programs can be found at the following websites:, or

Commissioner Christine Grant
New Jersey Dept. of Health and Senior Services


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