Now It’s The West Nile Virus? An Infectious Disease Pediatrician Explains Differences and Similarities between West Nile and COVID-19
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As we continue to worry about the spread of COVID-19, now we hear that positive West Nile Virus mosquito activity is at record high levels in Tarrant County.
It seems 2020 is not quite ready to give us a break any time soon.
Tarrant County Public Health issued a warning to the general public at the end of last month. In its latest report (Aug. 2-Aug. 8, 2020), TCPH reported 302 positive tests in the region this year.
“We are continuing to see rapid increases in mosquito infection rates in Tarrant County, which means we have more human risk for West Nile Virus,” said Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja at the end of last month. “To prevent outbreaks of West Nile, it’s very important that people remember to always use an EPA-approved repellent and wear long sleeves and pants when they go outside,” he said.
Fox4 reports one death related to West Nile this summer and "recent tests of mosquito traps in the northeastern part of the county show a 60% positivity rate."
Adding to the anxiety are how similar the symptoms of the West Nile virus is to COVID-19. About 20% of infected people will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.
These are symptoms common in many viruses including COVID-19 and the flu.
But there are differences in COVID-19 and West Nile, beginning with how you contract the viruses.
“COVID is a respiratory virus spread between people’s secretions,” said Nicholas Rister, M.D., an infectious disease pediatrician at Cook Children’s. “West Nile virus is a blood infection spread by mosquitos. People with COVID, have symptoms that are primarily respiratory symptoms. West Nile virus is more fever, rash and joint aches.”
Dr. Rister said less than 1% of West Nile virus cases can cause central nervous system infections (meningitis/encephalitis for example), which is a bit more common in adults than kids, but still rare.
West Nile virus can affect anyone, although people age 50 and older run a higher risk of developing a severe infection.
Most people with this type of the disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. Less than 1% of infected people develop inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues. The symptoms of neurologic illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis.
Most children who are infected with this virus do not develop symptoms. West Nile virus has been circulating in mosquitoes in the United States for many years and is not new.
With heightened concerns of mosquito-borne illness, Tarrant County Public Health and County officials are asking for help to protect their community from mosquitoes such as:
- Wearing long sleeves and pants
- Dumping standing water
- Using EPA-approved insect repellent
- Keeping vegetation trimmed
Here is a list of mosquito repellents endorsed by the FDA and CDC. Tarrant County Public Health also has more information about West Nile Virus and other preventive measures residents can take at Be Mosquito Free.