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What can you do to prevent West Nile disease as CA reports first death in US


With a record setting 286 West Nile virus deaths reported in the United States in 2012, the mosquito borne viral disease has already made its presence known this year as a California man becomes the first fatality reported in the United States in 2013.

A Sacramento County, California man, who tested positive for West Nile Virus (WNV) earlier this year, became the first death due to the mosquito borne virus in 2013.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the man's illness was consistent with the more serious, West Nile neuroinvasive disease. He is the third confirmed human case in the US, the others being from Texas and Mississippi.

West Nile fever was seen in epidemic proportions in 2012 with all 48 contiguous states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico reporting West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes.

The total human cases last year was 5,674, the highest number reported in the US since 2003, with slightly over half classified as neuroinvasive , which resulted in 270 or the 286 deaths reported in that record year.

Non-human WNV (birds, mosquitoes) have been reported from eight states to date to include Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

What is West Nile Virus?

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West Nile Virus is most commonly transmitted to people via mosquito bites; however, small numbers have been reported to be transmitted via blood transfusions and congenital transmission (mother to baby). There is no person-to person transmission during casual contact.

Approximately eight out of 10 people infected with WNV will not develop symptoms (asymptomatic).

Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected 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 short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.

Less than 1 percent of those infected will develop severe complications from the disease such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues).

The severe symptoms can include 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. The fatality rate of serious neuroinvasive WNV is approximately 10 percent (In 2012, it was 9 percent).

There is no preventive vaccine or specific treatment for West Nile Virus.

With West Nile season upon us this year, what preventive measures can you take to protect yourself and your family from this serious disease?

The CDC states, "The most effective way to avoid West Nile virus disease is to prevent mosquito bites". So let's start there.

  • When outside, ensure you and your family use an effective mosquito repellent such as thoses containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. Always ensure you follow the manufacturer's instructions on use.
  • If possible, wear clothing that will cover exposed skin. Wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants will protect against mosquito bites.
  • Ensure you take these precautions, particularly during peak mosquito-biting hours from dusk to dawn.
  • Keep mosquitoes out of your house. Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside. Use your air conditioning, if you have it.
  • Remove mosquito breeding areas by ensuring there is no standing water on your property. flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths are common sources of standing water.
  • If you see a dead bird, report it to authorities. Dead birds may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and the mosquitoes in an area. By reporting to local authorities, it assists them in monitoring the virus in the area.