Summer brings West Nile warnings
Awareness still needed despite lack of cases last year
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012 06:00 am
Taking a few simple precautions is the best way to avoid contracting the West Nile virus this summer.
People should consider wearing insect repellant containing DEET, wear long-sleeved and light-coloured clothing and be aware of their environments when outdoors, said Dr. Christopher Sikora, Alberta Health Services (AHS) medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone.
“None of us like being pestered by mosquitoes,” he said. “These are general things that each and every one of us can do to reduce getting bit, as well as reduce our risk for West Nile – they go hand-in-hand.”
West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes and passed to humans through bites. There are two separate forms of West Nile virus that can develop: West Nile Non-Neurological Syndrome and West Nile Neurological Syndrome.
“It is an uncommon disease, so the vast majority of people who have West Nile have no symptoms,” Sikora said, adding the roughly 20 per cent who develop symptoms will see them in up to two weeks following contraction.
West Nile Non-Neurological Syndrome can cause an uncomfortable feeling, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, skin rash, swollen glands and headache.
“In very unusual circumstances – so less than one per cent of people who have been infected – they may develop inflammation around the brain,” he said.
None of the country’s 102 confirmed cases of West Nile virus last year were reported in the province. Despite this dip in cases, Sikora said people should still take precautions.
“In general, people who are outdoors and are more likely to be exposed to mosquitoes are more at risk,” he said, adding individuals with weakened immune systems are also more susceptible.
These individuals should consider using an insect repellant containing DEET, which is the most effective repellant, he said.
“If there is consideration being given for insect repellants, then DEET is most effective,” Sikora said. “Apply as per label, don’t use on open wounds or if your skin’s irritated or sun-burnt and there are extra precautions that have to be taken with respect to children and DEET.”
According to Health Canada, the higher the DEET concentration, the longer it will provide protection.
Using a product with up to 30-per-cent DEET is approved for adults and children over 12 and will be effective for six hours. Children between two to 12 should apply a 10-per-cent concentration, which is effective for up to three hours.
Health Canada cautions that children under 12 should avoid prolonged use of products containing DEET.
Sikora said individuals looking to avoid DEET could also try oil of lemon eucalyptus for a repellant, adding precautions must still be taken for use for children.
“There [are] non-chemical means and that would mean light-coloured clothing, long-sleeve shirts which is a physical barrier for biting mosquitoes [and] staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active,” he said.
In 2010, there were five confirmed cases of West Nile virus throughout the country, with one reported in Alberta.
This was the lowest number of reported cases since monitoring began in 2002. At the peak of the West Nile epidemic in 2007, 2,401 cases were reported across Canada, with 320 having roots in Alberta.
Sikora said he is not sure what contributed to this increase in cases and said there is no way to predict how rampant West Nile will be this year, but said taking precautions is an easy way to reduce the risk of contraction.
For more information on West Nile virus, visit www.fightthebite.info.