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Mosquito-Borne Encephalitis

Encephalitis is the swelling and inflammation of the brain, and can be caused by a bite from a mosquito that is infected with a virus. Mosquitoes can contract such viruses by biting other infected species, such as horses and birds. However, these particular viruses usually maintain a mosquito-bird-mosquito-bird pattern. There are a few major types of mosquito-borne encephalitis: La Crosse, Eastern equine, Western equine, St-Louis, Japanese, and Venezuelan equine. Each type has its own unique symptoms and appears in different regions of the world.

Symptoms
Many people who contract the virus that causes encephalitis never experience any symptoms. In such cases, the virus runs its course without ever becoming dangerous to the individual’s health. Others will contract the virus and experience mild symptoms from the infection, such as mild fever, restlessness, nausea, body aches and pains, exhaustion and headache. However, a small number of people develop encephalitis from this virus. They experience more serious symptoms that can include a stiff neck, seizures, disorientation, weight loss, coma, weakness, paralysis, tremors, numbness, vision loss, and changes in mental state.

Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect that you have become ill due to a mosquito-borne illness, consult a doctor immediately. A medical professional will ask you about your personal and recent travel history, and will want to know if you have come into contact with any dead animals. Tests such as blood tests, spinal tap, a neurological exam, CT scan, MRI and EEG may be prescribed. There exists no drug to treat encephalitis, but doctors often prescribe medication that will help ease most symptoms. For instance, they may recommend intravenous fluids for hydration, a respirator to aid in breathing, painkillers to ease headaches and fever, anticonvulsants to treat seizures, corticosteroids or an anti-inflammatory drug to treat brain swelling, and sedatives.

Prevention
In order to reduce your chances of getting bitten by an infected mosquito, it is best to avoid being outside during times when mosquitoes are prevalent, usually dusk and dawn. At those times, be sure to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect your skin from bites, and wear an insect repellent that contains the chemical DEET. Also helpful is to rid your property of any standing water, such as birdbaths, gutters, ponds and puddles, as mosquitoes favor these types of locations for breeding. Keep your doors and windows closed in the early evening, and repair any torn screens in order to prevent mosquitoes from entering your dwelling.

Prior to taking a trip to any location where there have been documented cases of mosquito-borne encephalitis, such as Asia, it is advisable to consult your doctor, who may suggest you get vaccinated against the Japanese strain, the most common type of mosquito-borne illness in that region.

 


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