West Nile Virus: Protecting At-Risk Groups
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Published on August 21, 2018


West Nile Virus: Protecting At-Risk Groups

South Dakota and Nebraska are among the seven U.S. states where West Nile virus most occurs. Public awareness has grown over time, but this neuro-invasive disease is still a serious public health concern.

Jawad Nazir, MD, with Avera Medical Group infectious Disease Specialistists, offers these key points as reminders for all who live in mosquito country.

West Nile Virus Is Here

The species of mosquitoes that carry this virus are here, and they are here to stay. Realizing that can make a difference.

“South Dakota is among the states where there’s a greater than 1 in 100,000 incidence of the virus leading to its most severe complications, including encephalitis and paralysis,” Nazir said. “It’s endemic to our region and we must be on our guard to recognize and treat it.”

Prevention is No. 1 Goal

Use repellent and long-sleeve clothing, and avoid time outdoors between dusk and dawn.

“Make sure your windows have screens and doors are kept closed, and either remove or treat areas of standing water to reduce overall mosquito populations,” he said. “Make sure to use repellents that are effective, such as those which include DEET or picaridin-based varieties that are applied to clothing.”

The Culex mosquito that is known to carry West Nile virus is most active as the sun sets and throughout the night.

Most People Will Be OK

A majority of individuals who face West Nile only experience mild symptoms such as headache, fever, joint pain, vomiting, as well as diarrhea, rash or body aches. Most recover completely, but weakness and fatigue can last for weeks or months.

About one in 150 people who contract West Nile will develop severe illness. Symptoms and signs of severe illness include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.

“Our primary goal is to help protect those groups who are most at risk,” he said. “Testing to identify the underlying cause of symptoms is the first step.”

Groups Facing Most Risk

People age 50 and older, as well as those with immune-deficient conditions, chronic kidney diseases, diabetes and cancer are at the greatest risk of experiencing serious, and in some cases potentially fatal complications.

“There is no vaccine or specific treatment for West Nile virus. All treatment is supportive,” said Nazir. “If you have concerning symptoms, check with your doctor right away because timely supportive treatment can make a dramatic impact on the overall outcome.”

Swelling and Itch Mean Little

Some bug bites are bigger than others, but a skin-level response to a bite doesn’t mean it is something serious. Clean the bite and treat the itch with a topical cream.

“Some people – especially kids – will have a more acute response at the site of the bite, but cleaning it well is usually the best approach,” Nazir said. “The skin response to a mosquito bite does not relate to whether or not an insect-borne illness like West Nile is present.”

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