University of Florida

Avoiding West Nile Virus

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause severe encephalitis if transmitted to humans. However, most humans infected with the virus don’t develop clinical illness. Instead, they may suffer from fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands, and skin rashes—these systems together are known as West Nile Fever, which typically lasts a few days.

On the other hand, West Nile encephalitis involves more severe symptoms, including high fever, neck stiffness, convulsions, coma, and even paralysis. West Nile encephalitis is uncommon, occurring in one out of every 150 infections, but the disease is serious and can cause long-term problems such as chronic kidney disease, memory problems, and tremors.

Preventing West Nile

West Nile Virus can be serious, but there are ways to avoid it. It is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites a human—the virus is mixed in the pest’s saliva and then is released into the human’s blood stream. One way to try to prevent West Nile is to reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Here are some ways to protect yourself from mosquito bites:

  • Pay close attention to medical alerts and follow recommendations, especially in the arboviral transmission season from July to October. (Check the Encephalitis Information System for alerts and updates.)
  • Avoid mosquitoes by staying inside during peak biting times. Keep them out of your house by having window and door screens in good condition.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks, and shoes if you have to be outside during peak biting hours. 
  • Use mosquito repellent with DEET if you’re outside when these insects are active.

Mosquitoes love standing water, so make sure you don’t provide a place for them to live and breed around your home. Use these tips to get rid of standing water:

  • Change water in bird baths, toys, and outdoor pet dishes every three to four days.
  • Remove standing water and leaf litter from gutters and boat covers.
  • Dispose of cans, bottles, old tires, and anything else outside that could collect water.
  • Maintain your pool’s chemistry and don’t let water sit in plastic pools when they aren’t in use.

For more information on mosquitoes in Florida, visit the Mosquito Information Website.

Adapted and excerpted from:

C. R. Connelly, J. F. Day, and W. J. Tabachnick, West Nile Virus (ENY642), UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 07/2102).

"Mosquito-borne Diseases in Florida," Florida Department of Health (05/2013).

mosquito on finger

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