By Eraina Hooyer
They can be annoying and pesky with their high-pitched whine and sharp bite but mosquitoes can also pose a threat to an individual’s health.
The West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes and can be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
The Fight the Bite campaign is working to educate the public about the precautions they can take to prevent getting the West Nile virus.
The first signs of the virus in Alberta was confirmed in July 2003 and was found in mosquitoes, birds, horses and humans in the province.
“We know that it’s here and that it causes symptoms,” said Scott Budgell assistant for Dr. Martin Lavoie DTHR medical officer of health. “There are a few things people can do to help them not get the virus.”
The West Nile virus usually will not cause symptoms but it is possible that a mild illness can occur three to 15 days after being bitten. Common symptoms include a fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen glands.
It is rare that an individual will experience the more sever symptoms of the West Nile neurological syndrome.
The most effective method of prevention is to avoid mosquito bites by using a mosquito repellent that contains DEET and also by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when going outside. For those that do not favour DEET Budgell says that oil of lemon eucalyptus is also effective in repelling mosquitoes.
“It’s not good to panic about the West Nile virus,” said Budgell. “We want to put things in perspective, if you take a few little precautions it will give you the protection that you need.”
The risk of getting the virus in Alberta is slim and even in other provinces where there is the virus, only a small number of mosquitoes will carry the virus and only a few people bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus will develop a serious illness.
Budgell says that although West Nile is not an issue in Alberta yet, that it is important to still be aware, especially when it comes to seniors.
“The older you are the more chances there are to get the severe symptoms of the virus and we have seen that,” he said.
In addition to seniors, Budgell says that pregnant women also should be careful when it comes to mosquitoes and West Nile because it is able to affect the baby.
“Not only do you have to protect yourself but you have to protect your little one as well,” he said. “Same goes for parents, it’s important to take the precautions with your children.”
Precautions for small children include placing a mosquito net over strollers when outside and putting on the right amount of repellent.
Budgell also suggests going in the backyard and finding places where standing water can collect and cleaning out places, such as eaves troughs that can clog and trap water.
“Mosquitoes that are biting you in your own yard could be coming from your own yard,” he said.
Mosquito surveillance began on June 22 and 11 mosquito pools were recently tested at various locations throughout the province showing no positive pools to date and no human cases have been reported.
For more information visit www.health.alberta.ca.