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West Nile Virus Epidemic

West Nile Virus arrived in the United States in 1999. Between 2002 and 2003 the country saw the largest outbreak since the illness’s arrival. Current reports and statistics indicate that the case numbers for the summer of 2012 may surpass previous records set by the first outbreak in the early 2000’s. Currently, the West Nile virus epidemic continues to rise, and cases may not slow down until sometime in October.

West Nile, starting in birds and then spread by mosquitoes, caused 3,000 severe cases and 260 deaths in the 2002-2003 outbreak. Numbers currently being released by the CDC show that all 48 continental states have reported cases, with the number of cases totaling  1,590, and climbing. 70% of all reported cases are linked to the states of Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan. There have already been 66 deaths attributed to this outbreak, which is expected to continue until sometime in October. Roughly 56% of these cases have been deemed neuroinvasive, meaning the patient will develop meningitis, encephalitis, or even paralysis. Many of the patients with severe cases of West Nile virus will also experience coma, seizures and muscle weakness. Even though there are 4 effective vaccines for the disease available for horses, there is currently no vaccination for humans yet (though several are in Phase I and Phase II testing).

The best way to avoid West Nile virus is through diligent protection. Some methods include wearing insect repellent or using long-sleeved clothing and pants when outside during dawn and dusk, fixing or replacing window screens, utilizing air-conditioners as much as possible, and removing any unnecessary standing water on your property.  Keep on the lookout for symptoms, as well, which may originally appear as the flu. These include fever, headache, muscle aches, malaise, rash or swollen lymph nodes; and may take up to two weeks to appear.

Mid-late August has been the expected peak time for the West Nile virus epidemic. With the number of confirmed cases continuing to rise on an almost daily basis, the U.S. may be well into October before things start to settle down, especially for hard-hit southern states. Follow prevention guidelines to lessen your chances of exposure and keep an eye on loved ones - especially the elderly and the really young - for presentation of symptoms. If you suspect West Nile virus, seek medical attention immediately.

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