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Take Steps to Avoid the West Nile Virus

With the summer months quickly approaching, it’s important to caution everyone who works out of doors to use extra care and caution in the prevention of bug bites.

One inherent danger is mosquito bites. The West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to other animals through bites. It was first reported in the United States in the summer of 1999 and has now been found in 41 states. The geographic range of the West Nile virus detected within the United States has expanded each year.

Workers at highest risk of exposure to the virus are those working outdoors during dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are actively biting. Those occupations at risk include construction workers, roofers and painters, among others. The only known route of exposure is through a mosquito bite. Human to human or animal to animal transmission is not known to occur.

Mosquitoes can breed in any water or puddle that stands for more than four days. Those who work at sites near stagnant pools, ponds and irrigation ditches or any other stagnant bodies of water may be at an increased risk of mosquito exposure. Ideally, although probably impractical, it’s best to avoid working outdoors during peak biting periods.

Employers can take steps to reduce potential exposure by removing the sources of standing water:

  • Turn over, cover or remove equipment such as tarps, buckets, barrels and wheel barrows that accumulate water.
  • Discard tires, buckets, cans and containers that may collect at a building site.
  • Place drain holes in containers that cannot be discarded.
  • Fill in ruts or other areas where water accumulates.

Employees can reduce their risk by using personal protective measures:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks.
  • Spray exposed skin with insect repellent, although it’s strongly advised to read and follow all label directions.
  • Use repellents containing 35% or less DEET.
  • Do not apply any repellent to cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Spray clothing with products containing DEET or permethrin.
  • Do not apply DEET repellents under clothing.

Symptoms of the West Nile virus include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle and joint pain. Signs of severe infection include high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, muscle weakness and paralysis. The time of incubation from mosquito bite to clinical symptoms varies, but is reported to be from three to 15 days. While some may not experience any symptoms, others over the age of 50 have reported moderate to severe symptoms.

Workers who have health concerns should contact their health care providers. If a worker is at risk for West Nile and shows signs of the infection, a simple blood sample can be sent to a laboratory for testing. While there is no specific cure for the virus, treatment usually consists of supportive care. In severe cases, this may involve support of the circulatory, respiratory or renal systems.  Currently, there is no approved vaccine to prevent the West Nile virus in humans.

Janet Jackewich is the director of safety at Florida Home Builders Insurance, Inc., the insurance subsidiary of the Florida Home Builders Association.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Florida Home Builders Association.

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