Why West Nile Virus Should Be On Your Radar

Growing up in Northern California, specifically our little farming town of Durham, it was a joke that the mosquitos are as big as dogs. Thanks to all the flooded rice fields and the irrigated almond fields, there was plenty of sitting water to be found. Although I’d heard about West Nile Virus, I had never really taken it seriously. I wore inspect repellant when I remembered to and I’ve had my fair share of mosquitos bites all over my body… But the truth is, I was lucky.

So many here in North Dakota haven’t been as lucky. What they thought was a simple illness, maybe the flu or something, has turned out to be West Nile. Many haven’t been as fortunate to fight off the illness and sadly, have lost their lives. All due to one single bite from a tiny killer, a mosquito. I don’t think any of those suffering or even their families understood the seriousness of West Nile until it hit and was too late. But now, families like the Rath’s of Wishek are doing all they can to raise awareness in hopes that telling your story and using your voice will bring about change. It blows my mind to think about the fact that there is a vaccine for horses, but not for humans. There is also no treatment for West Nile. One community member, Marisa, has been bravely giving it her all to fight off the virus for many months trying many different treatments and medications. She’s traveled all around to get the best care from doctors who are giving it their all to “cure” her of the virus. Listening to the stories of these individuals brings tears to your eyes, it makes your heart break for the pain and suffering these families have experienced… But the silver lining in it all is the love, support, courage, and strength poured out by the communities they live in. Small town North Dakota is strong, they stick together when people suffer, they pour out love from the bottom of their hearts. And this weekend, I witnessed that.

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Two friends of mine decided to host a West Nile Awareness 5k that happened this weekend in my town of Ashley, North Dakota. For a town of 800 people, over 200 people came out to walk, run, and bike in support for those suffering or who have been lost due to West Nile. Tears were shed, hugs were given, kind words were expressed.. People came from far and wide, with many traveling upwards of 150 miles or more to attend. People young and old joined in. It threatened to rain, there was a bit of a chill in the air, but that didn’t stop anyone. Young kids rode their bikes coming across the finish line with rosy cheeks, older folks got out walked, husbands showed up from farming, ranching, and other duties to walk and run in support. Some walked, some ran, some rode their bikes… Whole families crossed the finish line together. It was amazing and I know it touched many, many more hearts besides mine.

Listening to the personal battles many have waged with West Nile, it brings to the light the seriousness of the virus. West Nile should be on your radar and it should be something more people talk about. It is my hope that after this post, West Nile is something that you will think about and will share with others the seriousness of it. The Bismarck Tribune reported that since 2002, there have been nearly 1,400 recorded cases of the West Nile virus in North Dakota.And that every year in North Dakota there is at least one confirmed case of West Nile with some years yielding numbers in the hundreds of confirmed cases. In 2003, 617 cases were reported and in 2007, 369 cases were reported. The CDC reports that ALL of the lower 48 states have confirmed cases of West Nile Virus, it’s not just a North Dakota problem, it is nationwide. So what is West Nile and what can YOU do about it? Here’s some information courtesy of the ND Department of Health.

What is West Nile and What Are the Symptoms?

West Nile virus is a virus that may cause different types of disease, such as simple as fevers or as severe of swelling of the brain. It is spread by mosquitoes that have the virus and then give it to humans by biting them. Most people who become infected will show no symptoms or mild symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and rash. More severe symptoms include convulsions, tremors, coma, paralysis, and in worse cases, death. Symptoms will usually appear five to fifteen days after becoming infected. It’s important to not take these mild symptoms lightly and if you have any reason to believe you’ve been infected, a simple blood test can determine if you have West Nile Virus.

What Can I Do to Prevent The Spread of West Nile Virus?

You can prevent the spread simply by trying to avoid mosquito bites.

  • By using insect repellent (with the active ingredient containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or simply oil of lemon eucalyptus) on your skin and clothing, it can offer protection if you have to be outside when mosquitos may be prevalent. Follow the directions on the bottle as to when to re-apply. If you are sweating or getting wet, it will be necessary to re-apply.
  • It is recommended to stay indoors from dusk to dawn, if possible. This is when mosquitos are out and most prevalent. If you have to be outdoors, wear long sleeved clothing and pants to cover up your skin
  • Be sure to check your windows and doors for any holes in your screens that would allow mosquitos to get indoors.
  • Get outside and check around your yard for anything that would contain standing water and empty them. Buckets, pet dishes, wading pools, flowerpots, and other sources of standing water attract mosquitos to lay eggs
  • Raise awareness! Notify your friends, family, and loved ones of the danger of West Nile Virus and what they can do to prevent it! And of course, become an advocate for finding a vaccine for humans!

Let’s hope that with increased awareness and raising our voices, we can make a difference. We can see the numbers of confirmed cases of West Nile in North Dakota go down and maybe someday there will be a cure or even a vaccine.

Please feel free to share this with your family and friends. And if you’ve got a personal story about West Nile, share it below!

West Nile 5k

For more info on West Nile, check out these sources:

West Nile Virus Fact Sheet

Insect Repellent Fact Sheet

CDC General Questions about West Nile Virus

West Nile Prevention

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4 Comments

  1. June 10, 2013 / 2:26 pm

    First let me say..I LOVE the profile picture of you at the top! You look wonderful.

    Second, I’m glad you’re sharing about this disease. I don’t know anyone who’s had it nor have I had it but I have experienced a bad disease myself called Rocky Mount Spotted Fever which also comes from a small bug, a tick. I was sick for many months before I was finally diagnosed right and the crazy thing about it is, all the dr’s I saw – and there were many!- never thought of it being a tick disease even though I told them I was constantly outside and riding in the woods. When I was trying to figure out what I had I was amazed at the amount of illness that share the same symptoms. Even West Nile has the same symptoms as RMSF and I’m assuming the only way to know the difference b/t all the different diseases is through blood tests.
    It’s great your sharing ways for people to prevent it and know what signs to look for. I shared my RMSF story in hopes that it might help someone else one day, and I’m sure this post will as well! Keep up the good work girl!

    • June 11, 2013 / 8:58 am

      Thank you!!! I am so sorry to hear about your illness! Ticks and mosquitos are nothing to take lightly! Ticks freak me out honestly! Keep being brave, sharing your story, and using your voice! 🙂

  2. Mike Compston
    June 10, 2013 / 4:07 pm

    I am a survivor of a mosquito born virus ( Western equine enchephalitis) sleeping sickness which has similar symptoms to West Nile. I can tell you from experience that it is very very serious and mosquitoes are not to be taken lightly. I wanted to die from the pain in my head! Seriously! Deliereous for a week.

    • June 11, 2013 / 8:59 am

      I had no idea mosquitos carried such nasty viruses! Thank goodness you were able to fight it off! Thank you for sharing!