Communicable Diseases – West Nile

At Global Medical Services, many of our paramedics work in oil and gas camps in Northern British Columbia, as such, we encourage them to be prepared for whatever they may come across in these remote regions.

Throughout the year, we profile various diseases and afflictions to help further their understanding in the hopes they will be prepared should they come into contact with one of these diseases.

This week we are profiling a known transmissible disease that an individual may encounter in their career as a paramedic, nurse or other health care provider. It is our hope that this profile will allow you to quickly
diagnose common or rare diseases should you come across them.

The West Nile virus is a disease mainly transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes transmit the virus after becoming infected by feeding on the blood of birds which carry the virus. It can infect birds, humans, and other animals (including horses, dogs and cats).

The virus is found in both tropical and temperate regions alike and since 2002 the virus has claimed 42 lives in Canada.

west nile cases canadaWest Nile is considered to be the most widely distributed vector-borne disease in North America, and has been detected in B.C.

In most cases, those who have been infected by the virus have no symptoms, or mild flu-like symptoms. For every five people infected with West Nile, one has mild illness usually lasting three to six days. Meningitis or encephalitis develops in about 1 in 50 people who are infected with West Nile, more commonly in those over age 50.

Occasionally the virus can cause serious illness and even death – in up to 4.5 percent of cases.

Research suggests health care providers should be on the lookout for severe muscle weakness as it is a common symptom. Other symptoms can include:

  • Sudden sensitivity to light or an inability to perform routine tasks
  • Extreme swelling or infection at the site of a mosquito bite
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Fever and severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion

Protect Yourself Against Mosquitoes


  • Wearing light-coloured, loose fitting clothes with long sleeves and pants when possible
  • Applying DEET-based mosquito repellent
  • Using mosquito nets when mosquito populations are high
  • Emptying any source of standing water (a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes) every two days
  • Removing old tires and cover rain barrels with netting as these can also attract mosquitos
  • Filling in depressions in the ground and check flat roofs for standing water
  • Checking for mosquito larvae in lagoons, dugouts, and standing water on rural properties
  • Avoiding scented lotions or perfumes (mosquitoes are attracted to sweet smells)

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