Indiana state officials urge locals in Elkhart and Carroll County to take precautions after mosquitoes in the area tested positive for the West Nile virus.

West Nile.

West Nile Virus.
Image via Cynthia Goldsmith (CDC) / Public Domain.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus known to be present in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East — and, since 1999, the Americas as well. It’s quite a nasty bug. The milder form of the illness,  West Nile fever, can include fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands, or a rash. More severe forms of the disease affect the nervous system and include inflammation in the brain and spinal cord (encephalitis), meningitis (inflammation of the tissues that wrap around the brain and spinal cord), muscle paralysis, even death.

It generally likes to infect wild birds. Mosquitoes bite infected birds and transmit the virus over to humans. In the US, it was first identified in wild birds in Indiana in 2001; up to now, it has been found in “most states along the eastern coast and east of the Mississippi River,” according to the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH).

As of June 27, the ISDH released a warning to locals in Elkhart and Carroll County (link goes to the ISDH’s live monitoring of the virus) that the virus has been detected in mosquitoes in the area. State Health Commissioner Kris Box adds that there is no need to panic. No human cases have been detected as of now, and it’s actually not that uncommon for West Nile to be spotted around these parts — it happens every year. The ISDH expects to continue to see increased West Nile activity throughout the state as the mosquito season progresses.

State officials urge residents to take precautions — especially since the risk of infection is highest during the summer months. Some of the ways you can protect yourself from infection with the virus include:

  • Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are active, especially late afternoon, dusk to dawn and early morning.
  • Apply an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol to clothes and exposed skin.
  • Cover exposed skin by wearing a hat, long sleeves, and long pants in places where mosquitoes are especially active, such as wooded areas.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of the home.

Residents should also take the following steps to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds:

  • Discard old tires, tin cans, ceramic pots or other containers that can hold water.
  • Repair failing septic systems.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.
  • Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed.
  • Clean clogged roof gutters, particularly if leaves tend to plug up the drains.
  • Frequently replace the water in pet bowls.
  • Flush ornamental fountains and birdbaths periodically.
  • Aerate ornamental pools, or stock them with predatory fish.