West Nile Virus (WNV)

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus (WNV) is a virus that is spread by infected mosquitoes. The virus usually infects birds, but it can be spread to humans by mosquitoes that bite infected birds and then bite humans. The virus can only be spread from infected mosquitoes; not from infected humans or infected animals.

Should I be concerned about West Nile Virus?

The disease caused by WNV is very similar to Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE), but it is generally milder. Human infections with these mosquito-borne viruses are very rare and can be prevented by taking simple measures to avoid mosquito bites.

How do I protect myself from WNV?

Wear loose fitting, light colored clothes with long sleeves and long pants when outside. Avoid using perfumes, colognes, fragrant hair sprays, lotions and soaps, which attract mosquitoes. Apply repellents containing DEET to clothing when outdoors. Citronella candles and repellents containing citronella can help, but their range is limited. Avoid the outdoors at dusk or dawn when mosquito activity peaks. Keep windows and door screens in good condition. Replace porch lights with yellow light bulbs that will attract fewer insects. Don't give mosquitoes a place to breed in your yard; empty anything containing standing water (old tires, flowerpots, jars, buckets, plastic wading pools. Empty and refill pet watering dishes and birdbaths daily.

How will I know if I have been infected with WNV?

Most people (over 99%) who are infected with WNV will have no symptoms or may have a mild flu-like illness with a fever, headache, and body aches before they recover. In some people, particularly the elderly, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain called encephalitis. Symptoms of encephalitis may include high fever, severe headache, nausea, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, paralysis, disorientation, convulsions, coma and rarely, death. People who have any concerns about their health should see their doctor immediately.

Is there treatment for WNV?

The symptoms of the disease can be treated and most people who get the illness recover from it.

Is there a vaccine for WNV?

There is no vaccine for humans against West Nile Virus infection. There is a vaccine to protect horses. Horse owners should contact their veterinarian for information about obtaining the vaccine for their horses.

Should I report dead birds?

The health department is tracking the presence of WNV in Mobile County through dead infected birds. Dead bird surveillance can sometimes be a faster way to confirm WNV in an area. If you find a dead blue jay, crow or raptor (a bird of prey like a hawk or an owl) first check to see if any infected birds have been reported in your zip code. Go to the West Nile Virus Updates page for a listing of zip codes already reported. Birds will continue to be tested from zip code areas until two birds are confirmed positive. If your zip code is NOT on the list, call the Mobile County Health Department Vector Control Program at 690-8124 to report the dead bird. To submit a crow, blue jay, or raptor for testing, it must have died within 24 hours and kept cool on ice until picked up by county officials. Don't panic if you find a dead bird. Remember that birds die for many reasons, it may have nothing to do with WNV. You cannot get West Nile Virus by handling a dead bird, and using a plastic bag to cover your hand will protect you from catching any other germs.

How can I get more information about WNV?

Go to the web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Alabama Department of Public Health. Both of these sites give more details about WNV. Another source of information is the News Releases page of this web site where you will find the latest news on West Nile Virus from the Mobile County Health Department.

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