What you need to know about West Nile Virus

The mosquito-transmitted disease often grabs headlines every summer when it’s found in humans, and this week’s news is a reminder to know what the symptoms are and how to avoid the annoying biting bugs.

Illinois public health officials this week announced the first human case of West Nile Virus for 2019, and Wisconsin officials have reported spotting the disease in animals this year but not yet in people.

Dr. John Brill, vice president of population health for Aurora Health Care and a practicing physician based in Milwaukee, Wis., says most people who get the West Nile Virus won’t show symptoms at all. Most others will feel light headaches, show minor rashes or experience some aches and pains.

In about 1 out of 150 cases, people will get a neurological disease that includes more severe headaches, a stiff neck and sensitivity to light, among other symptoms. Those are the kind of symptoms that should prompt someone to see a doctor, Dr. Brill says. The virus can be fatal in some cases.

Centers for Disease Control statistics show that Wisconsin had 33 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus in in 2018, with one death. In Illinois, there were 176 total confirmed human cases, with 17 deaths. The year before, Wisconsin had 51 cases with four deaths, according to CDC stats. And Illinois had 90 cases with eight deaths.

Dr. Brill says this late summer period can be an active one for mosquitos, and people who are outdoors should wear insect repellent or long clothing to try to prevent bites, as well as use mosquito netting if sleeping outside.

“Try to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes in the first place,” Dr. Brill says. “And also know the symptoms that show up when you’ve contracted a serious neurological disease.”

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