It’s been hard to turn on the news and not hear a story about the West Nile virus and the havoc that it’s wreaking on people across the country.
More than 1,118 people have been diagnosed with the virus and 41 people have died from complications of it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although 38 states have reported infections, 75 percent of the West Nile infections come from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Mississippi, according to CNN. This is the worst we have seen in 10 years, CNN reports.
But what exactly is West Nile virus?
West Nile, which usually rears its head in the summer and fall seasons, comes from mosquitoes that feed on birds that are infected with this virus. The Science Daily News reports:
— People typically develop West Nile symptoms between three and 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
— While about 80 percent of those infected will not exhibit symptoms, 20 percent have symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
— Symptoms can last for as little as a few days, or as long as several weeks, even in people who are otherwise healthy.
— About one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus will develop severe, potentially fatal, illness.
— Symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. In these cases, neurological effects may be permanent.
The CDC says there’s no reason to freak out about the West Nile virus. Here are a few things you can do to lower your risk of contracting the disease:
— Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.
— Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
— Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.
Health officials say our weather may have something to do with the increase in infections this year. CBS.com reported:
Dr. David J. Dausey, chair of the public health department at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. and director of the Mercyhurst Institute for Public Health, said higher temperatures and fluctuations between rainfall and drought provide ideal conditions that have biological impact on mosquitoes, thereby increasing the chances of a West Nile outbreak.
He contends that the mild winter the country experienced, followed by the early spring, extended the mosquito season past when they typically would have died in the winter. That allowed mosquitoes to repopulate themselves quickly come spring. Also, for a spring and summer that's seen high temperatures and drought across the country, the warm weather speeds up the life-cycle of the mosquito, allowing them to reach a biting age quicker, Dausey said.
Read about the most common West Nile myths here.
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