LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 24, 2012) — U.S. health officials reported Wednesday three times the usual number of West Nile virus cases for this time of year and one expert told the Associated Press it was “one of the largest” outbreaks since the virus appeared in this country in 1999.
So far, 1,118 illnesses have been reported, about half of them in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There also been 41 deaths this year, the CDC said, 21 of those in Texas.
In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid-August. There have also been 41 deaths this year. Most infections are usually reported in August and September, so it’s too early to say how bad this year will end up, CDC officials said. AP reports that West Nile virus peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260.
Kentucky has reported few cases of the virus. Since August, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture reports four cases of West Nile virus in horses. One case has been confirmed in a resident of Henry County.
About one in 150 people infected with the virus will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected will not show any symptoms at all.
Fayette County Health Department Environmentalist Luke Mathias told WEKU News that reports on mosquitoes are up, but he is not sure if the actual number of mosquitoes has increased significantly, or if concerns about West Nile have led to the spike in calls.
The best way to prevent West Nile disease, say experts, is to avoid mosquito bites. Insect repellents, screens on doors and windows and wearing long sleeves and pants are some of the recommended strategies. Also, empty standing water from buckets, kiddie pools and other places to discourage breeding.
To learn more about the West Nile virus, visit the CDC’s information page.
Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.