Public Health Agency of Canada advised Canadians to take preventative measures to protect themselves from West Nile Virus ( WNV ).
Despite a significant decrease in human cases in 2004 - possibly due in part to unseasonably cool and wet conditions much of Canada saw in the spring and summer months - Canadians are still at risk for contracting West Nile Virus.
" Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to protecting yourself from West Nile Virus," said David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer. " We know that the virus is here to stay. Canadians can reduce the risk of becoming ill by taking appropriate measures to avoid becoming infected," he said.
West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on the blood of infected birds. The virus can cause health complications for people of any age and health status, but the extent and severity of symptoms varies from person to person.
Most people who contract West Nile Virus show no symptoms or have a mild flu-like illness with fever, headache and body aches.
Others - particularly older people and those with chronic disease and weakened immune systems - may experience more serious health complications such as encephalitis, meningitis and other kinds of neurological illness.
Some of these complications can cause long-term health issues.
The greater risk of infection from West Nile Virus starts in Canada as early as mid-April and lasts until the first hard frost in late October. At this time, there is no specific treatment or vaccine for the infection, so the best protection is to reduce the risk of mosquito bites.
Canadians are advised to eliminate sources of standing water on their properties to reduce potential mosquito breeding places. Standing water should be drained regularly.
For example eaves troughs and bird baths should be drained twice a week, and unused items such as old tires, where water may collect should be removed from the property.
Once West Nile Virus has been reported in an area, the Public Health Agency recommends taking the following steps to reduce the risk of infection:
- If you are going to be outside when mosquitoes are active, take appropriate precautions to protect yourself.
- Make sure your door and window screens have no holes and fit tightly.
- Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat. Light coloured clothing is best because mosquitoes tend to be attracted to dark colours.
- Choose an insect repellant that contains DEET or other approved ingredients, and follow the product directions carefully to maximize protection. Personal insect repellants containing DEET are safe if used according to manufacturers instructions.
There were 26 reported cases of West Nile Virus in 2004, with cases reported in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and a single travel related case in Alberta.
This represents a decline from 1,494 cases reported in 2003.
The level of West Nile Virus activity is influenced by many factors including weather conditions and by the number of infected birds and mosquitoes in a region.
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, 2005