Reading the news these days may leave you confused: bubonic plague? Hantavirus? West Nile virus? Not in India or Uganda, but in the middle of good old US of A. What is going on? Where are all those scary diseases coming from? And, most importantly, what can we do to keep safe from them? It seems that we have always had all those viruses and bacteria, but in very small numbers. Climate change is one of the culprits for many dangerous bugs moving further north and for the bug season getting longer. But, it is mostly due to the media that we are made to worry about these exotic threats. Fortunately, thanks to the media, we can also learn how to stay safe, without locking ourselves in our homes. While staying at home might keep you safe from hantavirus, the lack of exercise will definitively put you in danger of more likely threats: obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
There is no doubt that Hantavirus is deadly. About 36 percents of people who are infected die from complications. But, since 1993, when the virus has been identified, there were only 587 cases.
While the disease can strike anyone of any age, people in danger are those exposed to the traces of urine and feces of deer mice and some other types of rats and mice. While hikers in the Yosemite Park are now in panic because of the number of cases reported, you are much more in danger if you have a cabin in the forest which stays empty most of the time. If there are deer around, there are deer mice.
The symptoms of Hantavirus infection show very fast, within a day or two. Starting with chills and fever, it quickly progresses to shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. If untreated, it can lead to lung and kidney failure and low blood pressure.
If you are hiking, make sure that your tent has solid, sealed bottom and it has a sleeping pad. If you have a cabin in the forest, air it before letting the family in. Spray the whole house with disinfectant and thoroughly clean all places where there might be some mice droppings.
West Nile virus
West Nile virus is a relative newcomer to the USA that came to us in 1999 from Uganda. Scientists believe that it came to the North America with infected birds. As a mosquito bites birds, it gets the virus. If a mosquito then bites a human, the virus gets transferred.
Most people are not even aware that they have been infected by West Nile virus. Those that have symptoms feel stomach pain, fever, diarrhea and headache.
The mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus are most active in fall, before the weather turns cold. If you are enjoying your long walks in the forest or in national parks, make sure that your exposed skin is covered with repellent with DEET. You need to reapply repellent every three hours to keep it effective. Other repellents such as picaridin, lemon oil or eucalyptus oil are also effective.
Bubonic plague brings to mind images from dark middle ages, when millions of people died from plague epidemic that devastated many parts of the world.
Since 1900, there were only 999 cases of bubonic plague I the US. In the last years, there are less than 17 cases per year.
Antibiotics for plague bacteria made plague less dangerous and deadly than before, but it is still a dangerous and serious disease. The symptoms include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and general weakness. The infected person is highly infectious and has to be isolated.
The plague bacteria spread from the tick bite. Infected ticks come from rodents, cats or prairie dogs.
It is fairly easy to stay safe from the bubonic plague ” “ stay away from rodents. Clean your house thoroughly to eliminate rat nests and when hiking, avoid brush piles where they live.
Lyme disease is another bacterial infection transmitted by ticks that have been infected by mice or deer. It occurs all over the US. The original symptoms are very flu-like, with chills and fever. Some people develop skin rash, red spots with sometimes clear center.
People infected with Lyme disease bacteria respond well to antibiotics, but if the disease is not treated, it causes joint and muscle pain.
Keep yourself safe from Lyme disease by covering exposed skin with repellent with DEET. When hiking, stay on the trail and avoid thick brush. Check your skin and clothes for ticks when you come back home.