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West Nile Virus (WNV) is a disease of birds. Mosquitoes are WNV carriers that become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread WNV to humans and other animals when they bite. There have been no documented cases of WNV spreading from person to person or animal to person.
In a very small number of cases, West Nile Virus also has spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding and even during pregnancy from mother to baby. West Nile Virus is not spread through casual contact such as touching or kissing a person with the virus. Viruses are most likely to be spread during the warm weather months when mosquitoes are most active, usually beginning in the spring and lasting until the first hard frost.
Most people who are infected with the West Nile virus (WNV) will not have any type of illness. It is estimated that 20% of the people who become infected will develop West Nile fever with mild symptoms, including fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. Incubation is usually 3 to 15 days.
It is estimated that 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease. The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) include:
All residents of areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of getting West Nile encephalitis; persons over 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease. It is unknown if immuno-compromised persons are at increased risk for WNV disease.
Mosquitoes can carry Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), a virus of birds usually found in eastern North Carolina. It may cause headache and muscle ache, seizures, coma and death. There is a vaccine to protect horses.
They can also carry LaCross encephalitis (LAC), a virus of small mammals like squirrels and chipmunks usually found in the very western part of the state. LAC usually causes mile flu-like symptoms. Young children may experience seizure and coma.
Protect yourself from West Nile and other mosquito-borne illnesses by avoiding mosquito bites. Use clothing and repellents to protect skin. Use common sense - read and follow repellent labels carefully.
Mosquitoes need only a few days and a little water to breed. Eliminate standing water - tip, drip, and drain trapped water. Monitor pet bowls, birdbaths, pools, and other outdoor containers for mosquito breeding.
Dead birds, especially crows, cardinals, blue jays, hawks and other raptors, may be a sign West Nile is present in your community.