West Nile Outbreak Worst Ever Seen In U.S.: Why Is It So Bad And What Can Be Done?

By Amir Khan on August 23, 2012 9:19 AM EDT

Mosquito
West Nile virus is spreading faster and further across the United States ever before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Officials said that the current West Nile outbreak is on track to the worst ever seen in the United States, and that the latest increase in the number of cases is "alarming." (Photo: Wiki Commons)

West Nile virus is spreading faster and further across the United States ever before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Officials said that the current West Nile outbreak is on track to the worst ever seen in the United States, and that the latest increase in the number of cases is "alarming."

"We are in the midst of one of the worst West Nile virus outbreaks ever seen in the U.S.," Lyle R. Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, said, according to the Washington Post.

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One month ago, there were only 29 cases reported, according to the CDC. Now, there are 1,118 cases across 47 states, with 41 people dying from the disease.

West Nile virus can cause three different infections -- an infection without symptoms, an infection with a mild fever, or a deadly infection that causes meningitis. Symptoms of infection include fever, drowsiness, loss of appetite, fatigue. In serious cases, West Nile virus can cause a coma.

Linn Haramis, an entomologist with the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the very young and the very old are at highest risk.

"The risk is high and people need to listen," she told CBS News. "This thing could put you in a wheelchair at age 60 for the rest of your life."

The majority of the cases have occurred in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Illinois. Texas has been hit the hardest, with 586 cases reported. The state has started aerial spraying against mosquitos in an attempt to ward off the disease.

"We normally kill 90, 95 percent of the mosquitoes that are out flying the night we put this out," pilot Malcolm Williams told ABC News.

But not everyone thinks that is the best method.

"These kinds of chemicals are most toxic to young children, infants and babies," Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Councilm told ABC News.

Experts maintain that the aerial spraying is safe, however.

"All the science has said aerial spraying is safe, and it's been shown in Sacramento, Houston [and] Boston," David Lakey, director of the Department of State Health Services in Texas, told the Washington Post.

In addition, spraying is effective, experts say. In 2002, researchers compared the likelihood of contracting West Nile in areas that have been sprayed compared to areas that have not.

"If you lived outside of the mosquito control area, you had a 10-fold elevated risk of getting West Nile virus," Edward Walker, a professor of entomology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., told USA Today.

The current outbreak of the disease is likely due to the drought affecting much of the country, coupled with a mild winter and a soggy spring -- perfect conditions for mosquitos.

Experts say the best way to prevent an infection is to wear insect repellant containing DEET, avoid being outside between dusk and dawn and to eliminate standing water.

"We're still warning cities that they have to do mosquito control," Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist at the South Dakota Department of Health, told CBS News. "We don't want people to be fooled by the drought."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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