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Human Cases of West Nile Virus on the Rise

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state health departments have reported 3,142 cases of West Nile Virus in the United States so far this year (134 of which were fatal). Particularly alarming is the fact that the number of severe cases so far in 2012 is the highest reported since 2003. West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes have been reported by 48 states. The CDC also reports that two thirds of the cases have come from seven states (Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, South Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California) with almost 40 percent of all cases reported from Texas.

“This year’s outbreak is the largest to date and certainly the most serious,” said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases.

Although experts disagree about the exact reasons for the severity of this year’s outbreak, they all agree that unusually high temperatures are likely a contributing factor. Although the total case numbers continue to increase, CDC officials remain unconcerned, believing that this year’s outbreak may have already peaked in mid- to late-August. If this holds true, we can expect outbreaks to taper off during or after October.

Here are some vital statistics about West Nile Virus:

  • The virus is commonly found in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East.
  • Although experts do not know exactly how long West Nile has been in America, officials with the CDC believe the virus has been in the eastern United States since 1999.
  • Four out of five people infected with West Nile virus do not show any symptoms.
  • People over the age of 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they become infected with the virus.
  • Up to 20 percent develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches (and occasionally) a skin rash on the trunk of the body along with swollen lymph glands. Symptoms of mild disease may last a few days.
  • Approximately one in 150 develops severe symptoms such as headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. Symptoms of the severe disease may last several weeks, although neurological effects may be permanent. Rarely, death can occur.
  • The incubation period of West Nile virus in humans is three to 14 days.
  • Mosquitoes initially contract the virus by feeding on infected birds and then spread the disease to humans they bite.
  • The virus is not transmissible through casual human contact.
  • There are rare instances of West Nile virus spreading through blood transfusions, organ transplants and from mother-to-baby during pregnancy or through breast milk.

To reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile, take these simple steps:

  1. Maintain screens on windows and doors.
  2. Drain standing water where mosquitoes breed. Common breeding sites include old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters.
  3. Use insect repellant containing DEET, Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.
  4. When you are outside, wear long pants and long sleeves.
  5. Stay indoors at dusk and dawn when many mosquito species are most active.

For more information about West Nile Virus, check out free online resources available from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

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