Ahhh the Sun.

Summertime is here again in Montana: the season of long days, swimming, BBQs, and outdoor fun of all kinds. But before charging off into the great outdoors, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with West Nile Virus and what the CDC says you can do to prevent it. A few minutes of education could help keep our beautiful Montana summer fun and healthy for you and your family.

What is West Nile virus and how do you get it?

West Nile virus (WNV) was first isolated in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda in 1937. The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York City. Today, we know that mosquitoes get the virus from birds they bite, and the virus is spread to humans from mosquito bites. The first confirmed case of WNV in Montana was detected in a horse in July of 2002, followed shortly by the first human case in August of 2002. The highest rates of disease occurred in 2003 and 2007.

What does West Nile virus do?

Roughly one in five infected people get sick when infected with the virus. Most people who do get sick from the virus experience flu-like symptoms that generally last a few days, although some people report having the illness last for several weeks or longer. Others who get the virus and become ill may develop the more severe form of West Nile virus disease, called West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease (WNND). People who develop WNND may experience headaches, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Although rare, about 10% of people with WNND will die.

Not every mosquito carries the virus, and about 80% of people who are infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms at all. Still, this virus has made a strong comeback, so precautions should be taken. Awareness and personal protection can be a big step toward reducing your chance of getting infected.

How to fight the bite

The best way to protect yourself from West Nile virus is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Here are some tips:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts
  • Use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredients when you’re outdoors, and always follow the package directions
  • Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or if possible, consider staying indoors during these hours
  • Keep mosquitoes out of your home by making sure you have good screens on your windows and doors
  • Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels.
  • Change the water in pet dishes and replace bird baths weekly.
  • Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used

For better or worse, mosquitoes will probably always be around in Montana. But with a little pre-planning and preparation steps can be taken to protect you and your family. Hopefully you will have an unforgettable summer for all the right reasons!