Infections with mosquito-borne West Nile virus have risen by more than 40 percent since Aug. 21 to 1,590 cases, including 66 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the toll is expected to continue to rise, perhaps to record numbers.
"We think the numbers may come close to, or even exceed, the total number reported in the epidemic years of 2002 and 2003, when about 3,000 cases of neuroinvasive disease and more than 260 deaths were reported each year," said Lyle R. Petersen, M.D., director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, at a press conference. "Neuroinvasive disease" refers to infections severe enough to affect the nervous system, in some cases causing encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord). Petersen said he expects the reported numbers of West Nile virus infection will increase through October.
So far, 43 states have reported at least one patient stricken with West Nile virus. Six states have reported more than 70 percent of the cases. They are, in descending order: Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan. Texas continues to be hardest hit with nearly half of the cases.
David L. Lakey, M.D., commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said at the press conference that the numbers of infections in Texas "may have plateaued, but I'm not convinced yet that we have peaked." He added that "this looks to us like it's going to be our worst year with West Nile."
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection, according to a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But people with symptoms should see a doctor because some medical interventions might be needed to support the body's functions until the infection clears.
Bottom Line: Take steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites. That includes using an insect repellent when going outdoors, wearing long-sleeves and pants during dawn and dusk, installing or repairing screens on windows and doors, using air-conditioning if you have it, and emptying standing water from items outside your home such as gutters, flower pots and buckets. Check our insect repellent Ratings and read our report on how to deal with Mother Nature's rashes and bites.
2012 West Nile virus update [CDC]
West Nile Virus [Journal of the American Medical Association]