West Nile virus cases reach annual record

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting the highest number of West Nile virus (WNV) disease cases reported through the third week of August since the virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.  Of the 1,118 cases reported, approximately 75 percent have been reported from five states – Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. The majority of those, half were reported from Texas.

41 deaths have resulted from these cases.

Virginia is not exempt from the virus – 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds or mosquitoes and Virginia has seen at least two human cases.

About WNV

While approximately 80 percent of people who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all, it is important to note that the virus itself cannot be treated by medications or prevented by vaccine. For those who do experience symptoms, they may include fever, headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Those with mild cases may recover on their own, while severe instances can require hospitalization for supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care.

According to the CDC, about one in 150 individuals infected with WNV will develop severe illness, with symptoms including 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.

Less than one percent of those infected may develop a “serious neurologic illness” such as encephalitis or meningitis. Nearly 10 percent of this group will die. Individuals aged 50 and up, and those with cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, or organ transplants are at a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms.

Symptoms of WNV can develop between three and 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

How WNV spreads

The WNV spreads through infected mosquitoes. Most often mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. They can then spread WNV to humans and other animals when they bite. Infections in the United States generally occur between June and September, with a peak around mid-August.

How to avoid WNV – the “Four D’s

The easiest and best way to avoid WNV is to prevent mosquito bites.  Just being outside, especially during dusk and dawn, puts you at risk.   You can reduce the risk by:

  • Using inspect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient – such as Deet.
  • Dress in long pants and long sleeves;
  • Especially if you are outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active; and
  • Drain any standing water, such as kiddie pools, flower pots, buckets, etc., where mosquitoes breed.

The CDC also recommends spraying clothing with repellents containing permethrin or another Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered repellent since mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. Do not apply repellents containing permethrin directly to exposed skin. Do not apply repellent to skin under your clothing. 

Using insect repellent safely

Apply your insect repellent to exposed skin. The more active ingredient your repellant contains the longer it can protect you from mosquito bites. Repellents may irritate the eyes and mouth, so do not apply repellant to the hands of children who may touch their face. The CDC also recommends that you:

  • Use enough repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing. Don’t apply repellent to skin that is under clothing. Heavy application is not necessary to achieve protection.
  • Do not apply repellent to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water. (This may vary depending on the product. Check the label.)
  • Do not spray aerosol or pump products in enclosed areas.
  • Do not spray aerosol or pump products directly to your face. Spray your hands and then rub them carefully over the face, avoiding eyes and mouth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than two months.

If you develop symptoms of severe WNV, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, seek medical attention immediately.

For more information on protecting yourself from the WNV, VML Insurance Programs members can access our safety bulletin: Mosquitoes – Protect Yourself, online

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