West Nile Virus and EEEV: How to protect yourself from the potentially deadly viruses that cause brain swelling
Mosquitoes carrying WNV and EEEV have been reported all over the United States. Here's everything you need to know, from first aid to how to keep them away.
On Tuesday, Florida health officials warned against the increase in cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEEV), a rare mosquito-borne virus that can cause brain swelling, often proving fatal. Before that, it was reported that New York had been warned against a West Nile virus outbreak after mosquitoes carrying the potentially deadly WNV have been identified across New York City. Mosquitoes tested in Queens, neighborhoods in Staten Island and Brooklyn were found to be infected with the virus.
West Nile virus has been present in the US since 1999 when it first appeared in New York City and it is now the most common virus spread by mosquitoes in the continental U.S. Cases of WNV occur during mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through fall. According to the Centre for Disease Control, the best way to protect oneself from these potentially fatal viruses is to avoid mosquitoes altogether. Symptoms can include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes. In most cases, there will be no symptoms of the virus.
No human cases of EEEV and WNV have been reported so far this year, but records show that since 2009 to 2018, the human cases of EEEV have remained relatively consistent averaging approximately seven cases a year. Signs include sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. More severe symptoms include disorientation, seizures and coma.
How does it spread?
"West Nile (WNV) is reintroduced when immunologically-naive bird populations fly along their yearly migratory routes. These birds harbor the virus," said Joseph M Conlon, Technical Advisor at the American Mosquito Control Association to MEA World Wide. So when WNV's appearance happens to come in contact with the human population that hasn't come across it before, new cases appear, he said. However, he added that wherever "WNV occurs, there will always be a low level of endemicity."
As for EEEV, it is prone to spread in swampy areas. The increase in people moving into hardwood forests and swamps where the virus is harbored results in the illness. "That, coupled with a public increasingly averse to mosquito control operations, makes it more likely that infected mosquitoes come into contact with humans," Conlon said. The virus is harbored by Culiseta melanura mosquitoes. Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey typically have the largest number of cases, CDC said.
The only way is to protect yourself
"There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat WNV or EEEV in people," a spokesperson for CDC told MEA World Wide. "You can reduce your risk of WNV and EEEV by using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to prevent mosquito bites. Additionally, keep mosquitoes out of homes by using screens on windows and doors," they said. It is also suggested that mosquito eggs be cleaned out weekly by clearing out any stagnant water in pots, buckets, barrels, old tires, drums, bird baths and other such places. He also added looking for DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) in all insect repellants. "It is effective against mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, fleas, and ticks," Conlon said. DEET is registered by the EPA to be applied to children older than 2 months and he recommends it is applied often and correctly.
Other things you can do to avoid the viruses
A good way to avoid mosquitoes is by filling out any source of stagnant water in the yard like drains, tree holes and hollow stumps, suggested Conlon. Additionally, you could also check air conditioning drain pans, keep drains, ditches, and culverts free of weeds and trash so water will drain properly, keep roof gutters free of leaves and other debris, cover trash containers to keep out rainwater as well as repair leaky pipes and outside faucets. Adult mosquitoes hide in bush and shrubbery so trimming the lawn and grass should be helpful as well, he added.
Is there a way to distinguish the mosquitoes carrying the viruses?
According to both CDC and American Mosquito Control Association, there is no way to know if a mosquito is carrying the virus. With over 60 different mosquito species in which WNV has been detected in the United States, one can’t look at a mosquito and tell if it’s infected, said CDC. "It is best to avoid all mosquito bites," they said. AMCA also added that "a mosquito carrying the virus will not exhibit different behavior or look any different from a mosquito not carrying the virus".
First aid in case of a bite
If a person is bitten and the virus is WNV, there is no first aid. However, since there's no way to know, the best thing to do next is to avoid the bacteria's entry into the body. "If you have been bitten by a mosquito try to avoid scratching the area of the bite, which can create openings in your skin that allow bacteria in and can cause infection. You can help relieve the itch by washing the area with soap and water, applying calamine lotion or anti-itch cream, icing the bite, and/or taking an over-the-counter antihistamine," the CDC has recommended. The AMCA recommended an immediate trip to the doctor. "One would have to have begun to exhibit WNV symptoms of malaise, headache and the like before a physician is likely to call for the expensive tests required for a definitive diagnosis," Conlon said.
If you prefer to go with natural remedies instead of DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are remarkably close in effectiveness to DEET, without many of DEET’s putative undesirable characteristics, said Conlon. Picaridin was recommended by CDC in 2005 as a safe, effective repellant. "Picaridin is odorless, has a pleasant feel and doesn’t plasticize like DEET. Studies have shown it to be as fully repellent to mosquitoes as DEET," Conlon said. Looking for ingredients such as Citronella oil, Geraniol, Lemongrass oil is also helpful.
Often-recommended ingredients that have been tested and don’t exhibit repellency to any noticeable degree are Absinthe, Andiroba, Anise, Basil (holy), Basil (sweet), Bergamot, Billy-goat weed, Tropic ageratum, Cedar (Deodar), Cypress (Chinese weeping), Eucalyptus (blue), Fennel, Chinese ginger, Fishpoison, Garlic (Oriental), Geranium (Rose), Ginger, according to the ADMC. However, one should be careful about using ingredients like Anise, Basil, Bergamot, Niaouli, Cassia, Cedar (Alaskan yellow cedar), Citronella, Citronella (Java), Citrus oils, Clove, Fever tea, Geranium, Ginger, Huon oil, Lemongrass, Lime, Litsea, Marigold (wild), Mexican tea, Mint, Nutmeg, Palmarosa, Pennyroyal, Pine (Scots), Rosemary, Rue (fringed), Thyme, Violet and Ylang-ylang - they can prove dangerous, Conlon said.