Most people know that mosquitoes are carriers of the West Nile Virus, but many of us are unaware that ticks are also important contributors. Tick-borne West Nile Virus is a serious cause for concern in North America. While mosquitoes remain the major contributors to the transmission of the disease, ticks have recently been discovered to play a significant role. Birds that carry the virus frequently become infested with ticks, which in turn become infected with the virus. Subsequently, the infected tick transmits the virus to other birds, creating an elevated level of infected birds. Mosquitoes that bite infected birds become carriers of tick-borne West Nile Virus.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus and tick-borne West Nile Virus are derived from the same viral string; therefore, their symptoms are the same. Many individuals who become infected with the virus exhibit very mild to no symptoms at all. However, when the infection does cause the person to become ill, reactions usually consist of flu-like symptoms such as:
- body aches
In the rare and more serious cases known as West Nile Encephalitis, the disease presents a rapid onset of symptoms such as:
- moderate to severe headaches
- very high fever
- muscle weakness
- loss of consciousness
In very severe cases, West Nile Encephalitis can induce a state of coma, cause permanent brain damage, and/or death.
What safety precautions can you take?
Although once thought to be a temporary epidemic in North America, the West Nile Virus has spread so rapidly that it is now deemed to be a permanent recurring seasonal illness, much like the flu. A tempting method to eradicate the virus at this point would be to eliminate its natural host, birds. However, not only is that solution impossible, but it also brings no hope or guarantee as birds are migratory.
The best defense against contracting West Nile Virus or tick-borne West Nile Virus is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and avoid areas where ticks flourish. During the summer months, this is easier said than done, but the following precautions are definitely helpful:
Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors
- Cover your exposed skin with DEET insect repellent
- Spray your clothing with a high level of DEET insect repellent
- Eliminate all stagnant waters on your property (the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes)
If you see a tick on your skin, remove it with tweezers by its head (it would be the closest part to your skin). Never crush or swat the tick as this action would encourage it to “latch on” even more tightly. To date, there have been no reported cases of tick-borne West Nile virus as a result of a direct bite from a tick to a human, but ticks do transmit other illnesses such as Lyme disease.
If you think you might have contracted West Nile Virus or tick-borne West Nile Virus, it is recommended that you consult a doctor immediately.