What You May Not Know About the West Nile Virus and Mosquitoes
What is West Nile virus and where did it come from?
West Nile virus was discovered in 1937 on the West Nile River in Uganda. Mosquitoes can carry the virus after they bite birds infected with West Nile. Mosquitoes then spread it to humans when they bite them.
The first U.S. cases of West Nile virus were reported in 1999. "We're really don't know how the virus reached the U.S.," said Dr. Robert Lyons, chief of infectious diseases at Saint Francis Hospital.
Lyons said some theories though are that the virus may have come to the Northern Hemisphere by mosquitoes who came over on airplanes, or birds that were blown off course during migration.
Are you always in danger when mosquitoes bite you?
Though you can always be infected after being bitten by a mosquito, some species are more likely to be carrying West Nile virus than others. There are 50 species of mosquitoes in the state and not all are equal when it comes to spreading the virus.
For example, salt marsh mosquitoes are active daytime biters, but are not likely to be carrying West Nile.
"If you're down along the coast on the beach and you're getting hammered all day by mosquitoes, those are probably salt marsh mosquitoes," said Roger Wolfe, Mosquito Management Coordinator for Conn. “I don't want to say you're safe, but more than likely those aren't the infectors carrying West Nile."
Are pets affected by West Nile virus?
Cats and dogs are not typically affected by the West Nile virus and it is not deadly for them. Though they may experience some symptoms from the infection, the symptoms will generally pass quickly.
However, horses are affected by West Nile greatly, perhaps more than any other species. They can suffer serious problems from the infection and the virus can even cause death.
"One of the good things for horses is that we have a licensed proven vaccine for them," said Dr. Mary Lis, the state's veterinarian. Lis said it's important to get your horse vaccinated every spring, before the mosquito season begins.
What does the state do for mosquito prevention?
Connecticut has a Mosquito Management Program which includes the departments of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiemnt Station, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Energy and Environment. The program also works closely with local health departments, the Department of Agriculture and the UConn biology lab.
These entities work together to monitor and manage the state’s mosquito population levels and to reduce the potential public health threat of mosquito-borne diseases. For more information, visit www.ct.gov/mosquito.