With warmer weather on the way, officials with the Wyoming Department of Health are warning people about the dangers of West Nile Virus.

Katie Bryan, who is an epidemiologist with the department, said mosquitos spread the virus when they feed on infected birds and then bite people, animals, or other birds.

Bryan says many people who are infected with the virus don't even know it. Among those who do get sick, common symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes.

A smaller number develop West Nile neuroinvasive disease, with symptoms including a severe headache, fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors convulsions, and paralysis.

The disease can occasionally be fatal. Since the virus was first reported in Wyoming in 2002, the death toll has ranged from zero one year to as many as nine in another.

Bryan says the overall number of West Nile cases may be under-reported, because people may not be tested for the virus unless they are seriously ill.

Bryan advises people to protect themselves by following the "Five D's" of WNV prevention. They include:

1) DAWN and 2) DUSK - Mosquitos that spread WNV prefer to feed at dawn or dusk, so avoid spending time outside during these times.
3) DRESS - Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt outdoors. Clothing should be light-colored and made of tightly woven materials.
4) DRAIN - Mosquitos breed in shallow, stagnant water. Reduce the amount of standing water by draining and/or removing.
5) DEET - Use an insect repellent containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide). When using DEET, be sure to read and follow label instructions. Other insect repellents such as Picaridin (KBR 3023) or oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be effective.

More information about the virus is available here.

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