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West Nile virus on the rise: protect yourself

Consumer Reports News: August 21, 2012 02:08 PM

Update: On August 22nd the CDC reported that the number of West Nile virus infections has risen to 1,118 cases and 41 deaths since the beginning of 2012.

This year is shaping up to be the worst on record for U.S. infections with mosquito-borne West Nile virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80 percent of the 693 infections reported have been in six states: California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas. Texas is home to nearly half of the cases and 14 of the 26 deaths attributed to the West Nile virus.

Nationally, 406 of the West Nile cases were classified as severe enough to affect the nervous system. Such serious symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, said the CDC. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. The other 287 cases around the nation involved milder symptoms, including 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, the CDC said, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.

People over 50 years of age and those with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and organ transplants, are at greater risk for serious illness.

Bottom line. The best way to avoid West Nile virus is by preventing mosquito bites. Get rid of mosquito breeding sites where you live by emptying standing water from flower pots and buckets. Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. And if you go outdoors at dusk and dawn, when many mosquitoes are most active, use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants. 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: as of August 14 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Doug Podolsky

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