Health: Cases of West Nile on the rise

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 1,590 cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) disease in people in the United States as of Aug. 28. This is the highest number of cases for the same period of time since it was first detected in 1999. There have been 65 deaths from the disease. The largest number of cases, 45 percent of the total, occurred in Texas.

According to the CDC, WNV is a potentially serious illness spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Although it is extremely rare, WNV may be spread through transplants, transfusions and from mother to child through breastfeeding.

The current outbreak of WNV disease in people, birds and mosquitoes has been reported in 48 states, including Kentucky.

Symptoms of WNV disease usually occur within three to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Most people, around 80 percent, do not become ill or experience symptoms. Less than 20 percent of people who are infected have any symptoms and these symptoms are usually mild.

Mild symptoms may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. The symptoms usually last for a few days, but may last for several weeks.

There is no specific treatment for the virus and people with milder symptoms usually improve on their own.

Potentially, one in 150 people with WNV disease will develop severe illness. People over 50 are at the greatest risk for developing severe illness related to WNV.

The symptoms include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, coma, convulsions, vision loss and paralysis. The neurological effects can be permanent.

People who become severely ill should seek medical attention for supportive treatment.

The amount of time spent outdoors at work or at play increases the risk of mosquito bites. The best way to avoid WNV disease is to avoid being bitten.

Preventive measures include wearing insect repellant containing an Environmental Protection Agency registered active ingredient any time you are outdoors.

The important thing is to wear that repellant anytime you go outdoors. Wear long sleeves and pants and avoid “mosquito activity time.” Mosquitoes, including those that carry WNV, are most active between dusk and dawn.

Mosquitoes breed in standing water, even a half inch of water can become a breeding site. Empty water from flowerpots, buckets and children’s toys and pools to prevent this from occurring. If you have a tire swing, drill holes in it to allow the water to drain since old tires are an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Dispose of old tires responsibly.

As part of a local control program, the Franklin County Health Department (FCHD) works with the Department of Agriculture to coordinate spraying of areas within our city and county prone to becoming mosquito-breeding sites.

According to Kendra Palmer, Environmental Services Director, FCHD is also using larvae killing discs and monitoring mosquito activity in the community.

FCHD reminds everyone that preventing mosquito bites is the best way to avoid WNV disease.

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