West Nile Virus Prevention

Avoid Mosquito Bites to Avoid Infection

Human illness from West Nile virus is rare, even in areas where the virus has been reported. The chance that any one person is going to become ill from a mosquito bite is low.

You can further reduce your chances of becoming ill by protecting yourself from mosquito bites. To avoid mosquito bites:

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET (Look for: N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) to exposed skin when you go outdoors. Even a short time being outdoors can be long enough to get a mosquito bite.

  • Avoid applying repellent to children less than 2 years old. Use care in applying repellent to small children, and don't put repellent on their hands because it may get into their mouth or eyes and cause irritation.

  • Read and follow the product directions whenever you use insect repellent.

  • Drain standing water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by getting rid of items that hold water.

  • When possible, wear long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors and stay indoors during peak mosquito feeding hours (dusk until dawn) to further reduce your risk.. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or DEET will give extra protection. Don't apply repellents containing permethrin directly to skin. Do not spray repellent containing DEET on the skin under your clothing.

  • Install or repair screens. Some mosquitoes like to come indoors. Keep them outside by having well-fitting screens on both windows and doors. Offer to help neighbors whose screens might be in bad shape.

About the Virus, the Disease, and Its Spread

West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, and can infect people, horses, many types of birds, and some other animals.

Most people who become infected with West Nile virus will have either no symptoms or only mild ones.

On rare occasions, West Nile virus infection can result in a severe and sometimes fatal illness known as West Nile encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain). The risk of severe disease is higher for persons 50 years of age and older.

There is no evidence to suggest that West Nile virus can be spread from person to person or from animal to person.

Reporting Dead Birds

Dead birds in an area may mean that West Nile virus is circulating between the birds and the mosquitoes in that area. Over 130 species of birds are known to have been infected with West Nile virus, though not all infected birds will die. It's important to remember that birds die from many other causes besides West Nile virus.

The public can play an important role in monitoring West Nile virus through reporting dead birds to state and local health departments. States have different policies for collecting and testing birds, so see the Links to State and Local Government Sites to find out how to report dead birds in your area.

For More Information

For more information about the West Nile virus, please visit the MedicineNet.com West Nile Fever Center.

The above information has been provided with the kind permission of the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov).

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Last Editorial Review: 9/7/2005