Environmental Heatlh

Environmental Health

West Nile Virus

Frequently Asked Questions

DeKalb-Specific Mosquito and West Nile Virus Questions

  1. What is the DeKalb County Board of Health doing about West Nile Virus?
  2. Will the Board of Health help me get rid of mosquitoes at my house? Will they spray my neighborhood?
  3. Should I worry about my dog or cat becoming ill with West Nile virus?
  4. Should I report dead birds to the Board of Health?

General Mosquito and West Nile Virus Questions

  1. What can I do around my home to help reduce the mosquito population?
  2. What is West Nile virus?
  3. How is West Nile virus spread?
  4. Do all mosquitoes transmit the West Nile virus?
  5. Where did the West Nile virus come from?
  6. Can a person get West Nile virus directly from birds?
  7. Besides mosquitoes, can a person get West Nile virus directly from other insects or ticks?
  8. How serious is the illness caused by West Nile virus?
  9. What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?
  10. How is West Nile virus infection diagnosed?
  11. Is a woman’s pregnancy at risk if she contracts West Nile virus?
  12. How is a West Nile infection treated?
  13. Is there a vaccine against West Nile virus?
  14. How long does it take to get sick when bitten by an infected mosquito?
  15. What should a person do if he/she thinks they have a West Nile virus infection?
  16. Who is at risk for getting a West Nile virus infection after being bitten by an infected mosquito?
  17. What can I do to reduce my risk of becoming infected with West Nile virus?
  18. How can I avoid heat stress on hot, humid days?
  19. Do I need to change my safety practices when working outdoors?
  20. I’ve gotten a mosquito bite. Should I be tested for West Nile virus?
  21. If I live in an area where birds or mosquitoes with West Nile virus have been reported and I am bitten by a mosquito, am I likely to get sick?

DeKalb-Specific Mosquito and West Nile Virus Questions and Answers

(1) Q: What is the DeKalb County Board of Health doing about West Nile virus?
A: The West Nile Virus Control Program monitors for the presence of West Nile virus and other arthropod-borne viruses (Arbovirus) and works to minimize the potential for virus transmission to humans. Activities include collecting dead bird reports, collecting and analyzing mosquitoes, using a geographic information system and conducting door-to-door educational campaigns. The most effective forms of mosquito control focus on eliminating mosquitoes before they become biting adults. The program therefore works with residents to reduce mosquito populations and provides information and assistance in finding and eliminating mosquito breeding sites. In order to prevent mosquito eggs from maturing into flying, biting adults, larvicides are used in some breeding sites such as storm drains throughout DeKalb County.

This program works closely with the other metro area counties to coordinate activities. In fact, a joint plan created for the metro area was recognized in 2004 by the National Association of County and City Health Officials as a Model Practice which demonstrates “exemplary and replicable qualities in response to a local public health need.”
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(2) Q: Will the Board of Health help me get rid of mosquitoes at my house? Will they spray my neighborhood?
A: The West Nile Virus (Arbovirus) Control Program does work with residents to reduce mosquito populations. The most effective way to get rid of mosquitoes is to eliminate places where mosquitoes may lay their eggs. Instead of spraying for adult mosquitoes, it is much more effective to eliminate sites where mosquitoes are breeding. Mosquitoes must have water for the larvae (immature mosquitoes) to develop; therefore by eliminating sites that hold water you will prevent future mosquitoes. This can be done by removing items such as plant saucers, buckets, tires, toys and even trash. Bird baths and pet dishes should be drained and changed at least twice a week. Check to make sure roof gutters are cleaned and are draining properly. Even small items such as the cap to a soda bottle can be a breeding site for mosquitoes.

The Board of Health can assist you in locating breeding sites around your yard and apply larvicide, when appropriate. You may request this assistance by filing out the Mosquito Assessment link on the www.dekalbhealth.net website or by calling 404-508-7900.
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(3) Q: Should I worry about my dog or cat becoming ill with West Nile virus?
A: Although a small number of infected dogs and cats have been reported, experimentally infected dogs showed no symptoms after infection with WNV. Some infected cats exhibited mild, nonspecific symptoms during the first week after infection–for the most part only showing a slight fever and slight lethargy. It is unlikely that most pet owners would notice any unusual symptoms or behavior in cats or dogs.

If you have questions about your pets and West Nile virus, contact your veterinarian or e-mail the Georgia Department of Agriculture at webmaster@agr.state.ga.us.
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(4) Q: Should I report dead birds to the Board of Health?
A: The Board of Health is taking reports of dead bird sightings within DeKalb County. To report a dead bird by phone, call 404-508-7871. Please report any birds that do not have an obvious cause of death, such as injuries from power lines, collisions with cars or gunshots. When you call, you will be asked the date you saw the bird(s), the number and location of the bird(s), a description of the bird(s) and your address. Your report will be combined with reports from throughout Georgia so we may track the presence of West Nile virus.

While the Board of Health is interested in collecting information about dead birds as part of its efforts to understand West Nile virus, we will not be picking up every dead bird reported. However, we encourage residents to report all dead bird sightings to assist the Board of Health’s monitoring efforts.

If you do not receive a phone call from the Board of Health to arrange pick up of the dead bird by the end of the next business day, please dispose of the dead bird. You may dispose of the bird by double bagging it and placing it in your regular trash. You can also bury it three feet deep. Remember to wear gloves or use a shovel to handle dead birds or any other dead animal. Please, remember to report the dead bird. The DeKalb County Board of Health does want every dead bird to be reported.

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General Mosquito and West Nile virus Questions and Answers

(1) Q: What can I do around my home to help reduce the mosquito population?
A: Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Weeds, tall grass and bushes provide an outdoor habitat for the adult mosquito. Mosquitoes can enter homes through unscreened windows and doors or broken screens.

  1. Eliminate any standing water that collects on your property.
  2. Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots and similar water-holding containers.
  3. Make sure roof gutters drain properly. Clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
  4. Change the water in bird baths at least twice a week.
  5. Maintain or dispose of plastic wading pools.
  6. Remove all discarded tires from your property.
  7. Turn over wheelbarrows when not in use.
  8. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs. If not in use, keep empty and covered.
  9. Drain water from pool covers.
  10. Make sure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace all screens in your home that have tears or holes.
  11. Remind or help neighbors to eliminate breeding sites on their properties. top

(2) Q: What is West Nile virus?
A: West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause serious, life-altering and even fatal disease including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Some people develop a less severe illness called West Nile fever. This illness usually goes away and generally does not require medical treatment. Fortunately, most people who get infected with WNV do not have ill effects. top

(3) Q: How is West Nile virus spread?
A: West Nile virus is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. There have been a few rare cases of transmission through transplanted organs, blood transfusion, breast milk and transplacental (mother-to-child). There have also been a few cases of lab workers becoming infected. These are rare cases. The main route of infection is through the bite of an infected mosquito. West Nile virus is not spread by person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing or caring for someone who is infected. top

(4) Q: Do all mosquitoes transmit the West Nile virus?

A: While there are many species of mosquitoes, not all species transmit the West Nile virus. Culex quinquefasciatus (commonly known as the Southern House Mosquito) is the species most commonly associated with West Nile virus in Georgia. It is possible however for several species of mosquitoes to carry the virus. Since it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to transmit the West Nile virus, it is important to eliminate mosquito breeding sites, particularly containers where Culex quinquefasciatus breeds, and to use personal protective measures. top

(5) Q: Where did the West Nile virus come from?
A: Outbreaks of the West Nile virus have occurred in Egypt, Asia, Israel, South Africa, parts of Europe and Australia. In 1999, the West Nile virus was first found in the United States. Since then, West Nile virus has become endemic in North America and cases can be expected to occur yearly throughout the virus transmission season. top

(6) Q: Can a person get West Nile virus directly from birds?
A: West Nile virus is normally spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread WNV to humans and other animals when they bite. However, dead birds should not be handled with bare hands. Use gloves to carefully place dead birds in a two thick plastic bags and then place the dead birds in the outdoor trash. top

(7) Q: Besides mosquitoes, can a person get West Nile virus directly from other insects or ticks?
A: Infected mosquitoes are the primary source for West Nile virus. So far other insects have not been found to transmit West Nile virus. top

(8) Q: How serious is the illness caused by West Nile virus?
A: Illness related to mosquito bites is rare. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness, severe headaches, stiff neck or if your eyes become sensitive to light. WNV affects the central nervous system and can be very serious. Some people who get infected with WNV develop a paralysis or an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis. These severe diseases usually require hospitalization. Symptoms may last several weeks and some effects may be permanent. Patients with mild symptoms should recover completely, and do not require any specific medication or laboratory testing. top

(9)Q: What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?
A: Most people who were infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms or experience mild illness such as fever, headache and body aches before fully recovering. In some individuals, particularly the elderly, West Nile virus can cause serious disease that affects brain tissue. At its most serious, it can cause permanent neurological damage and can be fatal.
Symptoms of severe illness include:

  1. Severe headache
  2. Mental confusion
  3. Muscle weakness
  4. Tremors (shaking
  5. High fever
  6. Stiff neck
  7. Coma
  8. Paralysis

See your health care provider if you develop any of these symptoms. top

(10) Q: How is West Nile virus infection diagnosed?
A: Diagnosis of West Nile virus infection is based on either isolation of virus; demonstration of antibody to West Nile virus; or evidence of West Nile virus in body tissue or body fluids. If you suspect a case of West Nile virus encephalitis, please call the Georgia Division of Public Health, Notifiable Disease Unit (404) 657-2588. top

(11) Q: Is a woman’s pregnancy at risk if she contracts West Nile virus?
A: Many women infected with West Nile virus during pregnancy will not have any signs of illness, while some may develop West Nile virus fever or West Nile virus neurologic disease. There is limited evidence to suggest that West Nile virus can be transmitted to a fetus when the mother is infected during pregnancy, regardless of whether the mother has symptoms of illness. There is not enough information to determine if West Nile virus infection during pregnancy results in adverse birth outcomes.

Pregnant women should always take precautions to reduce their risk for West Nile virus and other arboviral infections by avoiding mosquitoes, using protective clothing, and using repellents containing DEET. Pregnant women should see their health care provider if they become ill or to discuss any concerns about their health. top

(12) Q: How is a West Nile virus infection treated?
A: There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus. In severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, such as hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, airway management, breathing support (ventilator), prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract infection, etc.) and good nursing care. top

(13) Q: Is there a vaccine against West Nile virus?
A: Currently there is not a vaccine available for humans. This issue is being researched and perhaps a vaccine will become available in the future. A vaccine is available to protect horses from West Nile virus. Please contact your veterinarian for information regarding this vaccine. top

(14) Q: How long does it take to get sick when bitten by an infected mosquito?

A: Being bitten by an infected mosquito will not necessarily make you sick since most people who are infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms or experience mild illness. If illness were to occur, it would occur within five to 15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. top

(15) Q: What should a person do if he/she thinks they have a West Nile virus infection?
A: If a person has signs of severe illness, which include fever, severe headache, mental confusion, tremors, stiff neck, muscle weakness and confusion, he or she should seek medical care as soon as possible. top

(16) Q: Who is at risk for getting a West Nile infection after being bitten by an infected mosquito?
A: Persons older than 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease. top

(17) Q: What can I do to reduce my risk of becoming infected with West Nile virus?
A: The easiest and best way to avoid becoming infected with West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites. Particularly from April to October, when mosquitoes are most active, take the following precautions:

  1. When enjoying the outdoors, remember to use an effective mosquito repellent. DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective repellents recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when possible. Clothing also may be treated with repellents containing permethrin.
  3. FOLLOW MANUFACTURER’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ALL REPELLENTS.
  4. Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors with infants.
  5. Consider staying indoors at dawn, dusk and in the early evening, which are peak mosquito biting times.
  6. Install or repair window and door screens so that mosquitoes cannot get indoors.
  7. Eliminate as many sources of standing water as possible to eliminate mosquito breeding areas. top

(18) Q: How can I avoid heat stress on hot, humid days?
A: If you wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes and socks to reduce the risk of mosquito bites, you might be at greater risk for heat stress on hot, humid days.
To avoid symptoms of heat stress, you should:

  1. Wear light-colored, breathable clothing that allows moisture to evaporate quickly.
  2. Use extra caution if you are required to wear clothing on the job that limits evaporation.
  3. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated liquids to maintain body hydration.
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(19) Q: Do I need to change my safety practices when working outdoors?
A: Outdoor workers can decrease their risk of WNV infection by reducing their contact with mosquitoes through the use of the personal protective measures such as:

  1. Spraying exposed skin with an insect repellent. DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective repellents. Use according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
  2. Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when possible.
  3. Spraying clothing with products containing permethrin or DEET.
  4. Eliminating as many sources of standing water as possible to eliminate mosquito breeding areas.

Click here for a information sheet: Recommendations to Protect Outdoor Workers from West Nile Virus Exposure. top

(20) Q: I’ve gotten a mosquito bite. Should I be tested for West Nile virus?
A: No. Most mosquitoes are not infected with West Nile virus. Illnesses related to mosquito bites are rare. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms such as fever, severe headache, mental confusion, tremors, stiff neck, muscle weakness or confusion. Persons with mild symptoms should recover completely, and do not require any specific medication or laboratory testing.
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(21) Q: If I live in an area where birds or mosquitoes with West Nile virus have been reported, and I am bitten by a mosquito, am I likely to get sick?
A: No. Even in areas where mosquitoes do carry the virus, very few mosquitoes — less than 1% — are infected. The chances that any one bite will be from an infected mosquito are very small. It is important however to use take precautions to prevent further mosquito bites.
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For more information about West Nile virus, call the DeKalb County Board of Health, Division of Environmental Health at 404-508-7871.