Mosquito bites are annoying. They itch and can cause significant swelling in some kids. But, what about the recent epidemic levels of West Nile Virus in the U.S.? Do parents need to be worried and rush their child to the doctor for every mosquito bite? Read on to find out the actual risk to your child, should they be bitten by a mosquito. Learn the signs and symptoms of West Nile Virus infection and how best to protect your child from this disease.

What is West Nile Virus and how do you get it?

West Nile Virus causes disease in birds and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. It is not contagious from person to person through casual contact, but can be transmitted via blood transfusions or organ transplants.

What are the symptoms?

More serious symptoms include: fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, seizures, and/or disorientation.

Most people infected with West Nile are asymptomatic and don't even know they have it. They recover without any sequelae. If you do come down with symptoms, they are flu-like: with fever, headache, body aches and fatigue. These symptoms typically resolve within a few weeks.

More serious symptoms include: fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, seizures, and/or disorientation. This is from the development of meningitis and/or encephalitis and is considered quite rare. Even rarer, is death.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for West Nile Virus aside from supportive care for those with severe disease.

So, what is the actual risk of serious injury and/or death?

According to the CDC, 80 percent of people infected with West Nile Virus are asymptomatic, 20 percent will develop mild flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, fatigue, body aches and rash), and less than 1 percent (about 1 in 150) will develop the severe form of West Nile Virus (meningitis and/or encephalitis). Of this 1 percent, 10 percent of those individuals will die from West Nile Virus.

People over the age of 50 and those with a compromised immune system (cancer, diabetes, organ transplants) are at a higher risk for developing severe West Nile Virus Disease.

How can I protect my family?

The best way to protect children and adults is to prevent mosquito bites. Here are the best ways to do that:

  • Avoid going outdoors during peak mosquito activity time: dawn, dusk and early evening.
  • If you do go out, try to dress in long sleeves and long pants.
  • Use insect repellant on exposed areas of skin. Repellant containing DEET (10-30 percent) should be applied prior to going outdoors. It's best not to use a combination sunscreen/DEET, since DEET can become toxic, if overused. Children should not use a repellant with more than 30 percent DEET. Wash off the skin with soap and water before bed. Do not use on the face or hands and make sure an adult applies the repellant, not the child.
  • Eliminate any standing water (breeding ground for mosquitoes) in your yard.
  • Use mosquito nets for infant carriers and/or strollers when outdoors.
  • Use of repellant containing Permethrin may be used for camping gear and clothing but should not be used on the skin.

Dr. Mom's Bottom Line^ The current epidemic levels of West Nile Virus (especially in Texas) can be quite alarming for parents. Just remember, most people will remain asymptomatic and only less than 1 percent will develop serious disease. The best thing you can do for you and your family is protect yourself from those darn mosquitoes -- and if your child comes down with flu-like symptoms and you're worried, check in with your pediatrician.

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