The West Nile Virus is on the rise across the nation this year.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 1,118 cases of West Nile in people across the country, including 41 deaths, have been reported to CDC.
Connecticut is among the states that have had cases of people infected with the virus. So far this year four people, including a New Haven resident, have tested positive for the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health.
While no mosquitoes in Prospect, Beacon Falls, or Naugatuck have been shown to carry West Nile, there have been confirmed West Nile carrying mosquitoes in the nearby communities of Cheshire, Waterbury, and Hamden.
As cases of the disease rise, the best way to prevent contracting the disease is to avoid the mosquitoes.
“The most important thing would be to avoid times of day and locations where [people] will be most exposed, at dawn and dusk,” said Deborah Horvath, assistant director of the Community Health Services Division of Naugatuck Valley Health District.
She also recommended that people makes sure not create environments where mosquitoes breed.
“Take a look at your environment and make sure you don’t have any areas of standing water,” Horvath said.
These areas could be garden containers, bird baths, plastic swimming pools that are not chlorinated, or any other object that could collect and hold water after a rain.
“The only way to protect yourself is to keep mosquitoes from biting you. If you must be outdoors at dawn or dusk when mosquitoes are most active, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Use insect repellent with no more than 30 [percent] DEET, but use sparingly and with care,” Chesprocott Health District, which serves Prospect, Cheshire, and Wolcott, wrote on its website.
Horvath explained if a person is infected with West Nile it could take the form of several different symptoms.
“It is possible to have something very, very mild, little headache or an off feeling, like a very mild flu,” Horvath said.
These symptoms could go away in a week to 10 days, and the people could never know that they had been infected with the virus.
There are other people that will suffer more serious conditions from West Nile, however. These conditions are neurological symptoms stemming from the viruses attack on the central nervous system.
These conditions will bring headaches, neck pain, a high fever and possibly death.
Horvath explained that there is no treatment for West Nile.
“Because it’s a virus, antibiotics don’t work. As with any type of viral illness, they treat people in supportive therapy,” Horvath said. “They treat the symptoms that are making the person more seriously ill.”
She explained that this condition is rare, and affects approximately 10 percent of the people who are infected. Those at greatest risk are the very young, the elderly, and people with a compromised immune system.
“The most important thing is to minimize your exposure to the mosquitoes because once you are bitten, you can’t treat the virus,” Horvath said.
The state has been trapping and tracking mosquito activity for years and provides an up-to-date map as to where the mosquitoes have been found.
Connecticut Experimental Agricultural Station’s Chief Medical Entomologist Dr. Theodore Andreadis explained that there are 91 traps set across the state.
Each day the traps are emptied and the mosquitoes are brought back to a lavatory at the station that specializes in dealing with viruses and tested for West Nile.
Of the 10,568 tubes that were tested thus far this, 192 tested positive for West Nile.
“There are nine different viruses that are in these mosquitoes. We are most worried about West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis,” Andreadis said.
He explained that viruses replicate and build up to high levels when you have temperatures in the 90s. The mild weather that the state is currently experiencing will extend the mosquitoes life spans, he said.
However, Andreadis feels that the state has already seen its peak in WNV this year.
“Right now the areas of greatest concerns are lower Fairfield and New Haven counties, especially south of Merritt Parkway,” Andreadis said.