They say everything is bigger in Texas. Unfortunately, this year, that seems to be the case with West Nile virus. But it isn’t just Texas that has been affected. Cases of West Nile virus have popped up all over the country. And while this virus mostly affects humans, those of us who own pets should be especially cautious. There are precautions we can take to prevent our pets from becoming unsuspecting accomplices in mosquito reproduction!
In a news conference on Sept. 5, Dr. Lyle Peterson, director of the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, announced that a total of 1,993 human cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed in 44 states. Of those, nearly 45 percent have been from Texas. And while that’s bad news for those of you in Texas, the 55% of cases that have occurred in other states means bad news for all of us. Nationwide, surveillance has confirmed the West Nile virus in mosquitoes, birds or humans in every state except Alaska and Hawaii.
West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. While most people bitten by an infected mosquito will not develop symptoms, the virus is potentially dangerous – if not outright deadly- to those with risk factors, including the very old and very young, expectant mothers, and anyone with a weakened immune system. Dr. Peterson said that so far this year, 87 deaths have been attributed to the virus. He also reported that the nearly 2,000 cases reported so far is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to the CDC through the first week in September since the virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.
West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes, and also affects birds, horses and, according to the CDC, dogs and cats. The good news is that your furry, four-legged friends will not transmit the virus to you. The bad news is that if your pet has the virus, it means that West Nile virus is in your area. Your dog or cat is likely to exhibit few symptoms and you probably won’t even notice that your pet is sick. Mild lethargy or a slight fever has been reported in infected cats.
In humans, however, the virus can result in West Nile fever, with symptoms ranging from abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and swollen lymph nodes, and lasting from three to six days. Some people develop life-threatening West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis. Symptoms include severe headaches, confusion or disorientation, high fever, tremors or convulsions or even coma. Symptoms can last for weeks and some neurological effects can be permanent.
In order to lay eggs, female mosquitoes need a “blood meal” – and that’s where your pets can become an unwitting banquet…and accomplice to mosquito breeding!
After biting and feasting on the blood, females then look for water to lay their eggs. The CDC recommends a few steps to help prevent mosquito bites and eliminating likely “nursery” mosquito sites. They include:
- Wear an EPA-approved mosquito repellent when you are outdoors as well as long sleeves or pants, particularly at dusk when mosquitoes are most active
- Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs. This means providing fresh water in your pet dishes daily; emptying out bird baths weekly; and even making sure there are no puddles in innocuous places, such as tire swings, gutters, flower pots, and “kiddie pools.”
But you can also help protect your pet and help stop the spread of mosquitoes by treating your pet with a product that includes a mosquito repellant. Not all flea and tick treatments can kill mosquitoes, or repel them, so be sure to check the claims on the package label carefully, especially if you live in an area with large a mosquito population.
A few products to look at, that are approved to repel and kill mosquitoes, include Sentry Pro XFT (available in pet specialty stores like PetSmart and Petco), Sergeant’s Evolve topical squeeze-on for dogs (available at grocery and mass retail stores) and Sentry Purrscriptions topical squeeze-on for cats (available at pet specialty stores, like Petco or PetSmart). You can also help create a “safe zone” on your property with Sentry Home and Yard concentrate, a spray that not only wipes out disease-carrying fleas and ticks, but also mosquitoes, including those that can carry West Nile virus.
And an important warning: while DEET products are OK for humans, they should never be applied to your pets.
There’s still plenty of time to enjoy warm weather and the great outdoors. Keep yourself, your family and your pets safe and healthy, and help stop the spread of dangerous diseases with advice from the CDC and your friends at Pet Health Central!