Hurlburt Field medical staff combats West Nile virus

Members of the public health section of the 1st Special Operations Medical Group captured a mosquito infected with the West Nile virus at the Gator Lakes golf course this year. Annually, Hurlburt personnel trap mosquitoes and test them for viruses including West Nile virus and Zika. As a further countermeasure, members of the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron use larvicide in standing water in an effort to control mosquito in the larval state. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Dennis Spain)

Members of the public health section of the 1st Special Operations Medical Group captured a mosquito infected with the West Nile virus at the Gator Lakes golf course this year. Annually, Hurlburt personnel trap mosquitoes and test them for viruses including West Nile virus and Zika. As a further countermeasure, members of the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron use larvicide in standing water in an effort to control mosquito in the larval state. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Dennis Spain)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Members of the public health section of the 1st Special Operations Medical Group captured a mosquito infected with the West Nile virus at the golf course here.

The West Nile virus is most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes and causes West Nile fever, which can include other symptoms such as headaches, rashes and vomiting.

“Knowing what viruses are in the local area helps raise the public’s awareness and increases prevention of infection,” said Master Sgt. Jennifer Pittman, flight chief of public health with the 1st SOMDG.

About 70 to 80 percent of people who are infected do not develop any symptoms, and about 20 percent of people who are infected cultivate a fever, said Pittman. Those who develop West Nile fever usually recover completely. Less than one percent of people infected develop a severe neurologic disease such as encephalitis or meningitis.

West Nile virus has similar symptoms to Zika, such as fever and headaches. However, Zika is known for its connection to birth defects caused by infection during pregnancy; West Nile virus has not been linked with any birth defects.

“The symptoms of West Nile can be more inconvenient than Zika, but the birth defects associated with Zika make it worse,” said Pittman.

Risk factors for infection are simple – anyone living in an area where West Nile virus is present in mosquitoes can become infected. Risk of infection is higher for those who participate in outdoor activities.

“If you’re going to be outside, use insect repellents that contain an effective substance known as DEET,” said Airman 1st Class Chris Stafford, a public health technician with the 1st SOMDG. “Empty anything that can carry pools of standing water, including puddles that may develop in your yard. These are the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs.”

Other common areas for mosquitoes to lay their eggs are flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, birdbaths and pet water dishes. Wearing long sleeves and pants from dusk to dawn when many mosquitoes are active can also reduce risk of infection, said Stafford.

Annually, Hurlburt traps mosquitoes from April through October, and test them for viruses including West Nile virus and Zika. As a further countermeasure, members of the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron use larvicide in standing water in an effort to control mosquito in the larval state.

For more information about the West Nile virus, call public health at 850-881-3030.