West Nile Virus Rising, Mosquito Health Advisory for Greece

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Vasilis Papadopoulos, file)

ATHENS – After the death toll from the West Nile virus hit six in Greece, the Athens Medical Association (ISA) joined in warning the public to take simple precautions ranging from using repellent to wearing clothes that cover the skin – in the middle of summer.

ISA also advised the use of mosquito nets, fans or air conditioners and yellow bug lights but it wasn’t said if it also recommended electric zappers that kill the insects or citronella. Other measures include checking that there is no standing water sitting around in basins, jars, pots and gutters, as well as mowing lawns, trimming shrubs and clearing dead leaves. Plants and gardens, it added, should be watered in the morning rather than later in the day.

That came after the weekly report by the National Health Organization (EODY) about the number of deaths although the West Nile virus generally isn’t considered a major health hazard. The report said the number of cases of the mosquito-borne virus recorded since June was 49 – 14 in the last week alone. The six people who died were all over the age of 60.

“There have been enough cases to know that this is now a public health issue,” Danai Pervanidou who heads the office for vector-borne diseases at the national organisation for public health (KEELPNO) told the British newspaper The Guardian’s correspondent Helena Smith in June.

“The virus has established itself in Greece through migratory birds and we are recommending that everyone takes personal protective measures such as wearing long sleeves, avoiding places with stagnant water and using mosquito nets and repellent,” she said.

In a transmission season that began unusually early, laboratory diagnosed cases were reported in both rural and urban areas, according to KEELPNO. Many of those who contract the virus after being bitten won’t show symptoms.

About 20% experience mild, flu-like ailments including fever, headaches and general aches, only 1% will go on to develop a serious illness, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the paper said.

But among those diagnosed in Greece last year, 243 displayed symptoms of neuro-invasive disease such as encephalitis, meningitis and acute paralysis. Not since 2012 when there were 262 cases and 35 fatalities has an outbreak been so severe.