Summer 2012: Worst Outbreak of West Nile Virus on Record
This year has proven to be the worst ever outbreak of West Nile virus in the United States. In Pennsylvania alone, 14 have been diagnosed with the virus so far and one case in Luzerne County has resulted in death. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a total of 48 states have reported West Nile virus infections as of Sept. 4.
The infections have been found not only in humans and mosquitoes, but in birds as well, according to the CDC. More than 1,900 human infections have been reported so far, 87 of which have resulted in death. These are the highest rates recorded to date since the virus first appeared in the United States in 1999.
“Over 70 percent of the cases have been reported from six states (Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Michigan) and almost 45 percent of all cases have been reported from Texas,” as stated on the CDC’s website.
According to Kid’s Health, West Nile is a virus that is carried by mosquitoes, which usually become infected by feeding on birds that carry the virus. Being bit by a mosquito is the only way to contract the virus, and usually no more than 1% of the people who are bit actually do contract the virus. But this does not mean that caution should not be exercised when outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
Symptoms of West Nile virus, according to the Pennsylvania West Nile Virus Control Program, include fever, headache, body aches, occasional skin rash and swollen lymph glands. More severe symptoms include headache, high fever, stiffness in the neck, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
There is no specific treatment of vaccination to prevent West Nile virus. Those who are infected can recover on their own, but may experience symptoms for a few weeks. The elderly and those with weak immune systems are most at-risk of contracting the virus.
In order to try to rein in the outbreak, many local counties will be spraying areas to control the adult mosquito population.
Most mosquitoes breed in standing water, so be sure to wear protective clothing or bug repellent when outdoors or near water. The recent week of rain has heightened the rate of mosquito breeding, and therefore the risk of contracting the virus, so be extra careful.