Another West Nile Virus scare is sweeping the nation. In fact, many regions have declared states of emergency due to the number of infected people in their area. This has led to more spraying and other strategies meant to kill mosquitos carrying the virus and to prevent them from breeding further this year. It’s not just the bite of those mosquitos that can transmit the virus though, which is making some mothers nervous.
Approximately, two weeks after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile, the virus finishes its incubation period and the infected person may start noticing symptoms. Although they cannot transmit the disease through any sort of casual contact, there are a few ways someone could accidentally pass the illness on to someone else. This can occur as a result of blood transfusions and organ transplants, telling us that the blood plays a major role in transmission. That also means that mothers can pass the virus from their blood to their unborn babies or even to a baby they are breastfeeding. This is not common, as least as far as documentation shows, but it is possible. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and have begun to feel ill after being bitten by a mosquito in the past couple of weeks, you may want to speak to your physician just to make sure it is not West Nile. While some people never develop symptoms, those with compromised or delicate immune systems, such as the elderly, babies, and pregnant women, could contract more severe cases with symptoms like swollen lymph nodes, rashes, fever, aches, and nausea. In a small percentage of cases, the virus is fatal, but this is rare when it is caught and treated early.
For the most part, this West Nile scare is exactly that- a scare. In truth, more people die every year from the common flu than from any outbreak of West Nile thus far. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore any symptoms if you suspect you may have it, especially if you are pregnant. In the meantime, get rid of standing water near your home, stay inside during dusk and dawn hours, and wear a safe repellent if you think you will likely be around mosquitos. When you’re carrying or caring for your baby, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.