DR. HOOK- Bugged out: Mosquitos spread West Nile and more

Mosquitoes must serve some purpose in the ecosystem, but I value them as much as much as Courtney Love valued her dead husband's stolen ashes. (Who loses their spouse's ashes? I guess it doesn't matter since Kurt Cobain must be in Nirvana. Also who smokes their father's ashes... besides Keith Richards?)

Back to the subject, though, I wouldn't be surprised if mosquitos do me in– I'm a mosquito magnet. When I was in a rain forest in Hawaii, I caked on a non-DEET bug repellent which was as effective as a fad diet. By the time I pulled out my OFF, a DEET-filled bug spray, I had 21 mosquito bites. Black-Jack! And mosquitoes do more than cause itchy bumps on your skin after they bite you. They're also vectors for many diseases, ranging from malaria to West Nile Virus.

   West Nile Virus was found in 1937 in the West Nile province of Uganda. "It's a small, small world," as Disney would sing it, and the virus appeared in the USA in 1999.  Only a few states have not been affected by this virus in the past nine years– yikes!

West Nile is an arbovirus that is hosted in birds and spread by 60 varieties of mosquitoes. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush... unless they have West Nile. That is why when there are a bunch of dead birds, the health department checks them out for West Nile... to see if there is a chance for an outbreak in humans. But so you know, most birds don't die from the virus; you can relax, Tweety Bird.

   During a West Nile Virus outbreak, which will tend to occur from late summer to early fall, less than 10 percent of people are infected. Of those infected, the vast majority– 80 percent– will show no symptoms of infection. But for the 20 percent of infected folks who do have West Nile symptoms, they occur about 2-14 days after infection. Flu-like symptoms last about six days and include fever, appetite loss, and headache. 

   One in 150 infected persons gets meningitis and/or encephalitis. Meningitis means the sheath covering the spinal cord becomes infected, and that causes major neck pains, especially when nodding the head forward, and that can be fatal. Encephalitis means the brain is infected, and that too can be fatal.

If part of the spinal cord is infected, flaccid paralysis can result... the body becomes limper than a wet noodle.  Unfortunately, many don't fully recover from the paralysis and remain weak for life.  Those with encephalitis might have permanent brain injury and suffer with confusion, concentration, and lightheadedness.

   All is fun and dandy until someone loses an eye, and West Nile Virus can also infect the eye and cause some bad eye pain. Other less common problems are a rash, sore throat, heart infection, increased urination, hepatitis, and pancreatitis. Hmmm, I guess the goose-egg size reactions I get from mosquito bites aren't so bad in comparison.

   As with most viruses, there is no cure for West Nile, although alfa interferon and ribavirin are being investigated to help those with bad cases. The fatality rate is about two percent in those who have developed meningitis and 12 percent in West Nile sufferers who develop encephalitis.  

   I haven't found the citronella candles or natural alternative lotions to be effective. I try to wear long sleeve shirts and pants if it is not too hot. And I reduce puddles of water around my house so mosquitoes don't breed. True, no one likes to smell OFF-ful, but now I wear DEET bug repellent like cologne when I am outside.

Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice. Email him with your questions.