Although West Nile virus has been present in the United States since 1999, most often only those traveling to underdeveloped countries consider it a legitimate threat to their health. In recent weeks, however, the risk of West Nile infection in the United States has become widely apparent, making its most notable impression in the last seven days as cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control rose by over 60 percent from the week prior.
The alarming current total of 1,118 reported cases is the largest number of infections on record during the third week of August. While it isn’t unusual for West Nile to become increasingly prevalent during summer months as mosquito activity rises, symptoms in most infected people are mild and may go unreported, suggesting that there may be a larger outbreak than what can currently be measured.
The U.S. West Nile virus outbreak has stretched itself across 47 states and caused 41 deaths, but about 75% of reported cases have occurred in Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Current numbers reported by the CDC indicate that 640 of the total 1,118 reported cases originated in Texas and have accounted for 23 deaths. Dallas has been the subject of 11 of these deaths – surpassing the 10 deaths the area suffered from West Nile virus in total from 2003-2011.
Of the 1,118 total nationwide cases, over half are reported as serious and capable of causing encephalitis, meningitis and paralysis.
How to Protect Yourself
There is no vaccine for West Nile virus, making preventative measures the best defense for the disease. Permethrin-sprayed clothing worn in conjunction with sunscreen and insect repellent containing DEET offer the thickest shield against West Nile and other mosquito-borne illnesses. You can find all of these products in Passport Health’s Mosquito/Sun Kit, available at over 200 clinics across the United States and online at http://bit.ly/NMjSz8.
According to the CDC, West Nile virus typically peaks in mid-August, but cases are usually still reported throughout September.
Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, disorientation, neck stiffness, swollen glands, stupor, tremors, loss of vision, numbness, possible body rashes and paralysis, coma and even death. There is often a gap between the time one becomes infected and the appearance of symptoms. Children and elders are the most susceptible to severe cases of the disease.
Whether you’re planning a relaxing summer at home or an adventurous season overseas, don’t forget to arm yourself against West Nile virus with a Mosquito/Sun Kit. If your plans are taking you abroad, be sure to consult with your travel health specialist about proper protection from other common infectious diseases as well.
August 1 CDC press release on the status of West Nile Virus: http://1.usa.gov/N2KDzD