West Nile Virus and My Pet
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of West Nile Virus (WNV). The virus was first isolated in 1937 from a woman living in the West Nile District in Uganda, but wasn't reported in the Western Hemisphere until 1999. Since then, it has received extensive media coverage, often making it sound worse than it really is.
Now don't get me wrong; West Nile Virus is capable of causing illness and in some cases death. But to give you an idea of the prevalence of the virus in the United States, here are some facts: In 2007, 3510 people were infected with WNV (that's 1 in every 100,000 people). Only 3% of these cases were fatal. That means last year people in the U.S. had a 0.00003% chance of dying from West Nile Virus. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning (0.0001%).
West Nile Virus is a flavivirus, transmitted by over 30 species of mosquito. Humans can get the virus from blood transfusions, organ transplants, through the placenta, breast milk, and most commonly from mosquito bites. However, just because a human is infected with the virus doesn't mean they will present any symptoms or feel ill. If symptoms do occur, they usually show from 3 to 14 days after first becoming infected.
The majority of those presenting symptoms will feel much like they have the flu, with fatigue, vomiting, fever, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. In less than 1% of cases, more severe symptoms are present, including high fever, stiffness in the neck, tremors, convulsion, disorientation, severe headache, or coma. There is no treatment for West Nile Virus since it is a virus and is so uncommon (makes vaccine development difficult).
West Nile Virus in Pets
Most animals are even more unlikely to become ill from West Nile Virus. Those animals most at risk include horses and birds. Old, young, or otherwise immunocompromised cats and dogs are also more likely to become ill from WNV, but cases are rare. In fact, since 1999 there has been only one case of death to a dog and cat from WNV. Pets who have become ill from WNV exhibit such symptoms as decreased appetite, depression, disorientation, tremors, unusual head posture, circling, and convulsions. However, there is no need to euthanize a pet infected with WNV as the virus is currently incapable of animal-to-animal transmission (including humans).
Preventing West Nile Virus in My Pets and Myself
The bottom line in prevention of West Nile Virus is prevention of mosquitoes and mosquito bites. You can decrease the amount of mosquitoes in your area by eliminating sources of standing water in which mosquitoes breed (tires, bird baths, cans, ceramic pots, etc), cleaning gutters at least once a year to prevent clogging, turning over things like wheel barrows that may collect rainwater, and properly chlorinating swimming pools and hot tubs. You can also lower you and your pet's risks of getting bitten by staying indoors in the early morning and evening when mosquitoes are most active. Mosquito repellents can be used to keep mosquitoes away, but be careful which kinds you use. Use only mild repellants (no DEET) on animals and check with your veterinarian before using if you're not sure of a repellent's safety.