Suffolk mosquitoes positive for West Nile Virus; EVMS infectious disease chief weighs in on prevention
Suffolk Mosquito Control announced they detected West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis in mosquitoes in several neighborhoods August 11.
There’s never been a human case of EEE in Suffolk, but it’s often deadly to horses.
West Nile can infect humans and animals in Virginia.In 2022, there were six human cases in the state. Symptoms range from mild to hospitalization.
WHRO spoke with Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, Eastern Virginia Medical School’s infectious disease expert, to hear best practices for prevention and detection.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Laura Philion: Tell us a little about West Nile first. What are the symptoms?
Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan: Both of these things are viral infections that can rarely cause severe illness in humans.
Most of the people who get infected with West Nile virus are going to have either very mild or no symptoms. So 80% of people will have relatively mild or no illness. And the mild illness is going to look just like a lot of other viral infections: fever, there may be some nausea and vomiting, There may be diarrhea, maybe rash, just not feeling well. That usually lasts up to about a week or less.
A few people, so about one out of 150 people will get what's called neuroinvasive West Nile disease. And what that means is that it actually is causing infection in the central nervous system. So some of those people will have West Nile meningitis.
West Nile meningitis is a relatively mild viral meningitis. It's not infectious to other people, and it will cause headache and neck stiffness and fever. That's rare.
The vast majority of people who become infected with West Nile Virus have relatively mild or no symptoms.
LP: We've all heard warnings about West Nile, but what's the risk of Eastern equine encephalitis and what should we watch out for?
JH: Eastern equine encephalitis is a different virus and it actually can cause encephalitis and it can cause paralysis.
And that is a rare illness … but it can cause severe disease.
And I should mention West Nile also has a poliomyelitis-like picture that can occur with some people. And again, it's very rare, but it is something that can happen.
LP: And to close out our conversation, what are the best things people can do to avoid infection?
JH: For both of these, the most important thing is really just to try to avoid mosquito bites. And the way to do that is to wear long sleeves when people are going outside, which I realize it's difficult when it's this hot outside.
But the other thing people can do is to use mosquito repellent. And so I would just be careful about being sure to use mosquito repellent.
Also have screens on any open windows or open doors to prevent mosquitoes from coming in the house. And most importantly, if there's standing water anywhere, in the yard, around the house, eliminate that.