West Nile: What you should know

West Nile virus can strike anyone. Most people will show mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all, but the risk of long-term health complications increases with age. You should be aware of the symptoms, and most especially how to minimize the chances that you’ll get the virus in the first place.

How is it transmitted?
Although some research shows that people can contract the West Nile virus through blood transfusions and organ/tissue transplants, the most common way is through a mosquito bite. There is no evidence that West Nile can be contracted by touching or kissing someone who has the disease or from infected animals (such as household pets).

The best way to avoid contracting West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites.

Eliminating mosquito breeding grounds in your area is one of the best ways to help avoid the spread of this disease for everyone. Health Canada suggests:

  • Regularly (twice a week) draining standing water from items like pool covers, saucers under flower pots, recycle bins, garbage cans, etc.
  • Remove old unused items from around your property (e., old tires) which have a tendency to collect water
  • Change the water in wading pools, bird baths, pet bowls and livestock watering tanks twice a week
  • Cover rain barrels with screens
  • Clean out eavestroughs regularly to prevent clogs that can trap water.
  • Purchase an aeroator or ornamental pond. This will keep the surface water moving which will make the water inhospitable to mosquito larvae.

You should also protect yourself from bites:

  • use insect repellents that contain DEET or other approved ingredients
  • wear protective clothing: long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat
  • keep mosquitos out – make sure your home has proper screens and doors and windows without screens are kept shut

Don’t forget that mosquitos live long into the autumn. It’s not just during the hottest days of summer that you should continue these precautions.

You can also help to track the spread of the virus by being alert to illness or death in wild birds – particularly crows, raves, jays, and magpies (in Ontario only ravens and crows are tracked).  If you find unusual outbreaks in bird mortality you can report these to the appropriate agency in each provice. The following website, from the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre, provides information on how to do so:

Symptoms of West Nile
Many people who are infected get no symptoms or very mild ones. If someone does experience symptoms, these will generally occur within 2 to 15 days of infection. Symptoms include:

  • Mild: Fever, headache, body aches, rash, swollen glands
  • More severe: severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, nausea, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness, lack of coordination, muscle weakness and paralysis.  Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

There is no specific treatment or cure for West Nile virus. Symptoms are treated individually.

More information about West Nile virus, insect repellants, and pesticides is available at: