Many schools are making public health a top priority thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, coronavirus isn’t the only health issue to watch out for this year. West Nile Virus (WNV) is a growing concern throughout Texas, as human and mosquito cases have been identified in over a dozen counties across the state, causing serious illnesses and even several fatalities. Follow these tips for effective West Nile Virus protection and prevention to help you identify symptoms, slow the spread of the illness, and keep your staff and students safe.
Watch out for symptoms
Humans are infected with WNV through bites from mosquitoes that bit infected birds. The illness cannot spread through casual contact such as touching or kissing. Although most people who contract WNV never show any symptoms and never become ill, about 20 percent of those infected may develop West Nile Fever. Most mild cases of West Nile Fever will pass in a matter of a few days. Mild symptoms include body aches, fatigue, rashes, eye pain, and swollen lymph glands. However, a smaller percentage of cases results in serious illness requiring hospitalization, which can be fatal. People over 60 years old, as well as those with preexisting health conditions, are at much greater risk of experiencing a severe reaction to the virus.
Serious symptoms include:
- High fever
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Disorientation, confusion, or lack of coordination
- Stupor or coma
- Tremors, muscle jerking, or convulsions
- Partial paralysis or sudden weakness
If you notice any these symptoms and suspect that you have been infected with the virus, get medical help immediately.
Tips for West Nile Virus prevention and protection
There are a few things you can do to slow or prevent the spread of WNV. These include:
1. Get rid of standing water
Stale water is an invitation for more mosquitoes. Mosquitoes typically lay their eggs either directly on or next to a water source. It is best to remove water that could be sitting in rain gutters, small ponds, bird baths, tree holes, non-functioning fountains, storm sewers, and equipment stored outdoors. Even forgotten buckets and tires have the potential to accumulate unwanted stagnant water.
2. Schedule work safely and provide protective equipment
Supervisors have a responsibility to keep employees safe on the job. If your employees’ duties include outdoor work, avoid scheduling them to work during the high-risk times of dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. If they must be outdoors, provide them with proper protective clothing. Make sure they wear clothes like long sleeve shirts, pants, scarves, and hats, which cover vulnerable areas on the body and prevent mosquito bites.
3. Use bug repellent
When outdoors, use bug repellent to deter infected mosquitos. DEET, the active ingredient commonly found in insect repellents, is known to be the most effective. Repellent can be sprayed on clothing and is safe to apply directly to skin if necessary, but it should be washed off thoroughly once back inside.
4. Report dead birds on campus
Infected birds are at the heart of the WNV problem. If a bird dies of WNV and a mosquito later bites its infected corpse, it will become a carrier of the virus. For this reason, it is important to ensure that students and staff report any dead bird discovered on campus. Contact your local or state health department for information on proper disposal and encourage everyone to avoid handling any dead bird with their bare hands.
5. Monitor your animals
People are not the only ones at risk of WNV. Mammals such as horses, cats, and dogs can contract the virus. Schools and colleges involved in agriculture or livestock programs should be on the lookout for signs of illness among their animals and pay special attention to the condition of the animals’ living environment.
Manage the rising risk
A simple mosquito bite may not seem too threatening, but pests can pose significant health and property risks to your organization. WNV has been a historic issue in Texas, to the extent that Dallas had to declare a state of emergency in 2012 due to the rampant spread of the virus. Staying proactive about identifying and preventing the virus is critical to keep this situation from repeating itself.
Your school or community college should be equipped to respond to a variety of health risks. Prepare your organization to address viral outbreaks like WNV by updating your Emergency Operations Plan with a Public Health and Medical Plan. To learn more about best practices to maximize health and safety in your area, you can always reach out to your Risk Solutions Consultant.