According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. is experiencing the biggest outbreak of West Nile virus since 2004 with Texas being the epicenter of the potentially deadly mosquito borne virus. Currently there are over 693 cases in the U.S. with the virus detected in 43 states.
Over 80% of the cases have been reported in six states: Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and California and almost half of all cases were reported in Texas.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why the virus is particularly active this year or why certain parts of the country have a higher number of cases.
Health officials say that a number of factors like weather, heat, precipitation, bird populations that may harbor the virus, mosquitoes that spread the virus, and human behavior can all contribute to West Nile outbreaks.
The greatest risk for infection with West Nile virus typically occurs from June through September, with cases peaking in mid-August.
The best way to protect yourself from the West Nile virus is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, which often pick up the disease from infected birds. The CDC recommends the following steps to protect yourself:
- Use insect repellents when outside.
- Wear long sleeves and pants from dawn to dusk.
- Don't leave standing water outside in open containers, such as flowerpots, buckets and kiddie pools.
- Install or repair windows and door screens.
- Use air conditioning when possible.
Symptoms and Treatment
Most people (80%) infected with West Nile virus develop no or few symptoms, and the remainder may develop mild symptoms such as headache, joint pain, fever, skin rash and swollen lymph glands.
Less than 1 percent will develop neurological illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis. People at greater risk for serious illness are those who are older than 50 and who have certain underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure.
Severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, loss of vision, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks.
There are no specific treatments for West Nile virus, only managing the symptoms until the virus runs its course.
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