It was first identified in nearby Greenwich, Conn. in 1999.  Since then, the nation has seen more than 30,000 human cases, with more than 1,000 deaths.  Three fatalities and 71 of these infections are from the state of Connecticut, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile Virus (WNV) can have a deadly impact on those who contract it, but campus health officials say the chances of a Fairfield student contracting the disease are low.  Judith Weindling, the director of the Health Center here at Fairfield, assures WNV is not something to fear.

For starters, WNV is not contagious, and if a mosquito carrying the disease bites you, you are not guaranteed to contract it.  Weindling explained that WNV is an infection with symptoms barely noticeable to the average person.  You might feel a little bit uncomfortable for a day or two but nothing different from how you would feel if you caught a head cold.

She also explained that the students here at Fairfield are not at risk having any complications with WNV since the students here are young, fit and have strong immune systems.  The infection is only dangerous to those with poor immune systems, the elderly and young children, or those with underlying medical conditions, which may lower one’s immune system and therefore heighten risk of illness due to WNV, she said.

But what is WNV?  Simply put, it’s a disease that people can contract after being bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the virus.  The infection has the chance to cause Easter Equine Encephalitis (EEE), which can result in enlargement of the brain.

Dr. Theodore G. Andredis, chief entomologist at the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven told the New Canaan Patch, an online news site, that mosquitos in Connecticut could carry seven virus species, WNV and EEE being the most prevalent.  EEE is a rare disease; only a few cases are reported each year.  Although people who have EEE will experience mild symptoms such as those who contract WNV, in rare cases enlargement of the brain can lead to death.

So how do we keep from becoming infected?  According to Weindling, mosquitos tend to bite during dusk, the time when most students are getting ready to leave for the night or heading to the BCC for dinner.  Weindling said prevention for Fairfield students is simple:

Wear clothing that can cover you up: jeans, sweatpants, sweatshirts, long sleeve shirts, etc.

Use insect repellent with DEET, an ingredient that has been tested to repel mosquitos specifically.

Stay away from standing water.  This means puddles, buckets of water that have been lying around and birdbaths; any of these can attract mosquitos in bunches.

Be aware of what time you are going outside. If it’s around the time when mosquitoes are at high levels, stay in or take the necessary precautions.

With so much happening around campus on a daily basis, it’s easy to have something like this slip your mind.  No one likes getting bug bites in the first place, and when WNV and EEE are involved, it makes it that much more important to cover up.  So next time you are leaving your room remember: grab your key, your Stag Card – and DEET.

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