West Nile could impact Albertans as summer heat continues: AHS

Click to play video: 'Alberta delay for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, new funding for pediatric rehab, & West Nile virus prevention'
Alberta delay for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, new funding for pediatric rehab, & West Nile virus prevention
Health Matters July 28: While other provinces surge ahead with COVID-19 shots for young children, Alberta families are frustrated with their wait. Plus, the province is investing in rehabilitation and therapies for children in schools, and AHS offers tips on preventing West Nile virus infection. Morgan Black and Su-Ling Goh report. – Jul 28, 2022

With the long weekend around the corner, many will be exploring the great outdoors and Alberta Health Services strongly recommends packing the bug spray to avoid getting West Nile.

As much of Alberta is under a heat warning this week, the warm weather is a haven for mosquitos to multiply. AHS is reminding Albertans to take precautions to protect themselves against the virus.

“With the hotter days… really becoming later in the summertime, we do expect to see more of the type of mosquitoes that can transmit West Nile virus,” explained Dr. Chris Sikora, lead medical officer of health for the Edmonton Zone.

“It’s important to note that West Nile virus is is a serious illness and it can cause significant harm to those that are exposed to it and those that are infected. Most people do just fine, but there’s a subset, probably about 10 to 20 per cent, who have more difficulty with it.”

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Someone who has been bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile could develop West Nile non-neurological syndrome — formerly known as West Nile fever — or the more serious, West Nile neurological syndrome.

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Common symptoms of the non-neurological syndrome can include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, skin rash, swollen glands and headache.

For those who develop neurological syndrome, symptoms can be more severe, including tremors, drowsiness, confusion, swallowing problems, high fever, unconsciousness, paralysis and even death, according to AHS.

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Sikora said it’s safe to say “none of us like mosquitos” and although rare, it’s still best practice to take precautions against the virus on top of just using bug spray.

Looking at statistics across Alberta, there were 50 reported cases in 2018, four in 2019 and one case in 2020. Sikora said data isn’t quite ready yet for 2021.

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To prevent getting West Nile, AHS recommends to:

  • Wear a long-sleeved, light-coloured shirt, pants and a hat.
  • Consider staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Use a Health Canada approved insect repellant (e.g., products containing DEET or Icaridin).
  • For infants younger than six months, do not use an insect repellent containing DEET. Instead, use a mosquito net when babies are outdoors in a crib or stroller.
  • For children six months to two years old, use insect repellent only when there’s a high risk of insect bites that can spread infections and diseases. Do not use more than once a day.
  • For children over two years old, you can use insect repellent up to three times a day.

“For the very young ones, (such as) those that are less than six months of age, (it’s) best to utilize a mosquito netting on the stroller or carriage,” Sikora added.

According to AHS, from 2003 to 2018, there were 532 cases of West Nile virus were confirmed in the province, many of which were acquired in Alberta and not travel-related.

“Of all of these cases, 458 were non-neurological syndrome,” AHS stated.

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