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Should I be inoculated against the West Nile Virus in the Boston region - 2000

Question: I recently read about the West Nile Virus in the Boston region in mid September. Would inoculations be wise or necessary as my fiancée is quite prone to insect bites. What would you recommend?

Answer: West Nile Virus appeared last year on the Upper Eastern seaboard of the US. It caused many cases of infection but thankfully only a handful of fatalities. It is a virus originating in birds but then transferred to humans via mosquito bites.

Since it's appearance last year the Federal Agencies responsible for it's eradication have worked hard to kill off the mosquitoes that spread the infection, including spraying insecticide across parts of New York and advising people on how to stop the insect breeding by not letting any water stagnate near human habitation. This has been very successful, and there have been a lot fewer cases since then.

There are no inoculations for this illness at present, and in reality you or your fiancée don't really need them. This is because the virus normally only causes a mild flu like illness, which passes in a few days. The people who are most at risk are the elderly and those who already have other serious medical problems. Infact of the 4 deaths in New York last year, the average age was 82 and they all had other conditions too.

Rarely West Nile can cause an encephalitis, this is an inflammation around the brain that needs steroids to control the symptoms. New Yorkers are told to look out for any flu like illness that then leads on into a severe unremitting headache and neck stiffness. It is then possible to diagnose the infection with a blood test, but there is no immediate cure, just supportive measures until your own immune system has beaten the infection.

Of course it's not much fun being bitten by bugs when you're away anyway. Your fiancée should take all the usual protective measures if she is prone to attack. I suggest she buy a local insect repellent, which always seem to work better than imported ones, to spray on any exposed areas. If you are in a bug infested area, like a swamp or still creek then wear long sleeved shirts and long trousers especially at dusk when the bugs are hungrier. Another travellers trick is to take a daily Vitamin B12 tablet, or some prefer a clove of garlic a day as this seems to make you less of a tasty meal to these mosquitoes.

Finally, I always take a sedating antihistamine with me, like Piriton as bug bites always seem to itch more at night, and these tablets can stop the itching and help you sleep when taken in the evening.


Dr Jules Eden

Dr Jules Eden
MBBs BSc MRCGP




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Information published on this website is not a substitute for professional medical care or advice but should be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A Doctor should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

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