All the buzz: Is West Nile here yet?

Sixteen deaths and 371 cases nationwide, including a man in nearby Richmond. Two dead infected crows here in Albemarle. Should you worry about the West Nile virus?

"Panic doesn't help anyone," says Thomas Jefferson Health District director Dr. Susan McLeod.

Here's the bad news. Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus have arrived in Central Virginia, and the germ can cause encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

More bad news: approximately one in 100 mosquitos are carrying the Virus. And there's no vaccine.

And now for a little good news. The odds of contracting the virus are tremendously slim. For instance, only one in 200 people bitten by an infected mosquito will get seriously ill. Of those, only 10-15 percent of those die, according to the Virginia Department of Health website.

Some symptoms: fever, headache, body aches, and a stiff neck. Young children and oldsters face a higher risk of becoming sick after being infected with the virus because their immune systems are often not strong enough to fight it.

What can you do? For starters, get rid of all standing water in the neighborhood, such as in buckets, gutters, and trash cans to reduce the places where mosquitoes can breed.

If you need to work or play outside, wear long, loose, light-colored clothing, and applying insect repellent to exposed skin. (McCleod does caution parents that insect repellent for kids should have less than 10 percent DEET.)

The first reported illness from the West Nile virus case in Virginia occurred last week after a 33-year-old outdoor enthusiast was treated for the virus but not hospitalized, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Nearly 100 years after mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever threatened to stop the Panama Canal, a mosquito-borne vexation has arrived in North America.

Named for a region of Uganda where it was first isolated in 1937, the West Nile virus first appeared in the United States on Long Island in the summer of 1999 and killed seven people. Many New Yorkers stayed inside that summer and panicked if an outside door was left open. And the menacing sound of helicopters spraying mosquitoes gave the area a war-zone feel.

This summer, panic about the West Nile virus has revived the specter of those days as news reports of deaths escalate. So is it necessary to run off to the doctor after every bite?

The Virginia Department of Health says no. In fact, diagnosing the virus requires a blood test or spinal fluid test, and results can take several weeks to come back.

But before you let your imagination get the best of you next time a little blood-sucker strikes, remember McCleod's admonition that panic doesn't help, and the slim odds of encountering– let alone getting sick from– an infected mosquito.

McCleod applauds local government for being responsive, but she points out the absence of "local ordinances, laws, and enforcement mosquito control commissions in place" that used to be more prominent in Virginia.

So although the mosquito has revived itself as a small force to be reckoned with, a little protection and precaution will go a long way.

And this summer's top scent will be Eau de DEET.

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