The Woodlands and West Nile: What you need to know

By: Zach Hake, Woodlands Online
| Published 07/10/2017


THE WOODLANDS, Texas – A recent sampling of mosquitoes in The Woodlands has confirmed the presence of West Nile Virus, but that doesn't mean you need to hide indoors for the rest of the summer.

Woodlands Online chatted with Dr. Megha Tewari from Memorial Hermann The Woodlands about precautions and prevention.

WOL: How concerned should we be about West Nile Virus?

Dr. Tewari: There is an increasing trend of cases being reported each year. Last year there were 370 reported human cases and 18 deaths associated with West Nile Virus in Texas. This is concerning since there are no medications to treat it or any vaccines to prevent it.

WOL: What are the symptoms of West Nile Virus?

Dr. Tewari: Approximately 80 percent of people infected with the virus will have no symptoms. The other 20 percent may experience:

  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Most people recover completely but fatigue and weakness may last a few weeks to a few months. Only 1 percent of infected people develop serious and sometimes fatal neuro-invasive disease. This affects the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system. Some symptoms include disorientation, tremors, confusion, paralysis and coma. Recovery may be slow and 10 percent of people may die from complications.

WOL: Who is most at risk of developing complications?

Dr. Tewari: West Nile Virus affects people who are outdoors (workers or people participating in outdoor activities) especially since it is spread through infected mosquito bites. Elderly people above age 65, people with cancer, low immunity, diabetes, kidney disease or organ transplant recipients have a higher risk of serious illness and complications.

WOL: How can we protect ourselves and our families?

Dr. Tewari: Avoid peak mosquito hours. Dusk and dawn, when winds die down, encourage mosquitoes to come out to feed. Wear full sleeves and cover exposed parts of the body while going outside. Light-colored clothing is recommended as it is less attractive to mosquitoes.

Use insect repellents which are EPA approved like DEET (Cutter, Off etc), or OLE (oil of lemon- eucalyptus.)

It is recommended to apply every 4-6 hours while outside. Spray some on your hands and then apply to wrist, elbows, ankles, neck and forehead, which are exposed areas of the body and therefore more susceptible to bites. It is not recommended to use such products for infants under the age of 2 months. Instead I recommend mosquito netting to drape car seats and carriers.

Avoiding stagnant or standing water around homes and yards will help prevent breeding grounds for mosquitos. Some plants like citronella, marigold, basil and catnip repel mosquitoes and can be planted in yards.

WOL: What should someone do if they suspect West Nile?

Dr. Tewari: Immediately contact your health care provider. We have doctors that will perform a thorough evaluation and exam. The disease is diagnosed based on a combination of symptoms and lab tests of blood or spinal fluid.

WOL: Are there any alternatives to bug spray to repel mosquitoes?

Dr. Tewari: Some people prefer using natural remedies to repel mosquitoes. Lemon eucalyptus oil has been approved by the CDC for effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes. Others like tea tree oil, lavender oil, cinnamon oil etc. are not registered by the EPA and their effectiveness is uncertain. One other thing to remember is to always dilute these essential oils in a carrier oil like almond oil to avoid skin irritation.

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