It Only Takes One Bite: West Nile Confirmed In Indiana

The Indiana State Department of Health says only a doctor can confirm whether a person has contracted West Nile virus from a mosquito bite.

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(Indianapolis, Ind.) – There is evidence that the West Nile virus is spreading in Indiana this summer. State health officials say the virus has been detected in mosquito pools in two communities, in Elkhart and Clark counties.

Taryn Stevens, a zoonotic and vector-borne disease epidemiologist for the Indiana Department of Health, said she expects many other counties to find evidence of West Nile in the coming weeks. Last year, she said, 35 human West Nile cases were reported in Indiana, and it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to cause a severe illness.

“Most people with West Nile virus infection don’t develop any symptoms,” she said. “But in those people who do develop symptoms, the most common are flu-like illness, such as a fever, headache, body ache and joint pain.”

West Nile virus can cause West Nile fever, which can develop into a more severe form of the disease that affects the nervous system. That could lead to inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, muscle paralysis or even death. Stevens said anyone who suspects they have the virus should see their primary-care doctor.

State health officials are encouraging folks to take precautions to reduce the risk of a mosquito bite. Stevens said that includes eliminating potential breeding grounds around the home.

“Once a week, we suggest empty, turn over, or throw out any items that might hold water,” she said, “like tires, buckets, flower pots, birdbaths, anything like that – because mosquitoes actually like to lay their eggs near that stagnant water.”

Other preventive measures include avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active, covering exposed skin and using an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent. Stevens said anyone concerned about the use of DEET or other chemicals can find alternatives on the EPA’s website.

“You can actually get on this website and go through and kind of filter out if you don’t want to use DEET, for example,” she said. “It can give you some other options that are proven to work just as well.”

West Nile virus was confirmed in most Indiana counties in 2018.

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