Dear Barb – West Nile Worries

Dear Barb,

my girlfriend and I are avid campers and have been camping for years. However in the past few years we have been hearing a lot about Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. What precautions can we take to prevent exposure? If we are exposed, how serious are these conditions? I realize you are not a doctor, but perhaps you can suggest general things we can do to protect ourselves. Thanks, I’ll be watching your column for a reply.

Jeremy in Sudbury

Thanks for writing Jeremy. After doing some research, I was able to find a wealth of helpful information on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s web site( Information is also available by calling the CDC public hotline at 1-888-246-2675. Since there is so much information on these topics, I will discuss West Nile Virus this week and next week’s column will include information about Lyme disease. West Nile Virus is a seasonal virus that arises with the onset of summer and stays until fall. Mosquitoes that become infected through contact with infected birds spread the virus. An infected mosquito that bites a human or animal can pass the virus on. In a minimal number of cases, the virus has been spread through organ transplantation, blood transfusions, breast-feeding and from a pregnant woman to her unborn child.

Once a person has been infected, symptoms can take anywhere from three to fourteen days to develop. However, approximately 80% of individuals who have been infected do not show any symptoms. In a small percentage of people, symptoms will be more pronounced, resembling a case of mild flu. Other symptoms can include generally feeling unwell, headache, fever, swollen glands, skin rash, nausea. These symptoms can last up to several weeks.

Unfortunately, a few individuals will become seriously ill after exposure to West Nile Virus. Since it attacks the central nervous system, the more serious effects include high fever, disorientation, stupor, convulsions, muscle weakness and even paralysis. In these severe cases symptoms can last weeks and may result in permanent damage. For some individuals this virus has been so debilitating that they have not been able to return to work or carry on their normal lives.

There is no treatment for West Nile Virus, but the more serious cases can be supported through medical treatment that may include hospitalization. However, Jeremy, you don’t have to barricade yourself indoors, there are things you can do to lessen your risk of exposure to this virus.

1. Cover exposed skin as much as possible, especially during the early morning and evening hours when mosquitoes are most active.

2. Use mosquito repellent containing DEET. For individuals who are sensitive to DEET, most organic health food stores sell mosquito repellents consisting of natural ingredients that are promised to be just as effective.

3. Make sure you dispose of standing water around your home or campsite, as this is where mosquitoes breed.

4. Repair holes in tents or window screens to avoid mosquitoes entering your home.

I hope this helps, Jeremy. By taking a few simple precautions, I am sure you and your girlfriend can continue camping without fear of being infected by West Nile Virus.


E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.