West Nile virus overlooked during coronavirus pandemic? Public health expert cites similar symptoms

After mosquitoes recently tested positive for West Nile virus near Austin, Texas, one public health professional was concerned that the medical community would overlook the illness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Most people infected with West Nile don’t feel sick. However, one in five infected people does develop a fever and other symptoms such as headache, vomiting or rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated one in 150 infected people develop a severe, potentially fatal, illness affecting the brain and spinal cord.


In the case of the novel coronavirus, the CDC also lists fever among other symptoms including congestion or runny nose, nausea, diarrhea, chills, cough and shortness of breath.

Williamson County officials in Texas said a pool of mosquitoes in a regional park tested positive for West Nile virus on July 9, though there haven’t been any human cases of the mosquito-borne illness in the county since 2017.

The county’s Vector Management Program Lead, Jason Fritz, told Fox News that while roughly 80 percent of people infected with West Nile Virus are asymptomatic, about 20 percent develop West Nile fever.

“With COVID being such a big issue that it is, we’re starting to see more of those mild symptoms in people with COVID, fever, body aches, similar to what you’d see in West Nile fever,” Fritz said. “But when you go to the doctor, it seems that more questions are geared toward the pandemic.”

Fritz said it’s usually not until more severe cases of West Nile virus, like encephalitis and meningitis, that specialized tests are performed. These severe cases are rare.

“As a public health professional, it does scare me a little bit with starting to see West Nile Virus in our mosquito population that if we’re not able to get as much surveillance on the human side of it, that does make it harder to control from a public health standpoint,” he said.

To avoid West Nile virus, apply insect repellent, cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants and keep mosquitoes out of the home by shutting windows and using the air conditioner, or screened windows and doors, the CDC advises.

Click here to see to full guidance related to West Nile virus from the CDC.

Coronavirus, on the other hand, mostly spreads through virus-laden respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs and the droplets land on someone nearby. Recent evidence has shown airborne transmission may be possible as well, with aerosols lingering in the air and infecting others upon inhalation in crowded, indoor spaces with poor ventilation.

For protection against COVID-19, the CDC advises frequent hand washing, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a cloth face cover in public settings, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily.


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