West Nile virus: Protect yourself from this mosquito-transmitted illness

As temperatures warm West Nile virus cases rise, it\'s advised to keep skin covered when outside, especially during dusk and dawn. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

WASHINGTON – Last year turned out to be the worst year in more than a decade for West Nile virus, and as the summer approaches people are being warned to protect themselves.

West Nile virus comes only from mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says West Nile virus killed 286 people nationwide in 2012, the deadliest year yet for the disease that first started showing up in the U.S. in 1999.

There were 5,674 cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Thirty of those were in Virginia, the most in that state since 2003.

The CDC says hotter weather in recent years, helping breed more mosquitoes, may have led to more cases. But Jorge Arias, an environmental health specialist and biologist with Fairfax County’s Health Department, says the disease is hard to predict.

“Whether there is a trend that is getting worse or better, I don’t think we can predict,” he says.

Many people may get mild cases of West Nile without knowing they have the illness. It is particularly dangerous for people age 50 or older and those with weak immune systems.

There’s no medication for West Nile virus. Arias says people just have to protect themselves.

“It’s all a change of behavior which unfortunately is the hardest thing to convince people to do.”

Here’s are some tips to reduce exposure to mosquitoes:

  • Wear long, loose and light-colored clothing. Keep covered up, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are usually out.
  • Use insect repellent products with picaridin or no more than 50 percent DEET for adults and no more than 30 percent DEET for kids.
  • Get rid of standing water in potted plant trays, buckets, toys, anything that collects water.
  • Eliminate standing water on tarps or flat roofs.
  • Clean out birdbaths and wading pools once a week.
  • Clean roof gutters and downspout screens regularly.
  • Repair screens on doors and windows.
  • Clear clogged drains.

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