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West Nile virus toll tied to record high temperatures

Consumer Reports News: September 06, 2012 09:08 AM

Infections with mosquito-borne West Nile virus have risen by 25 percent since Aug. 30 to 1,993 cases, including 87 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The high toll may be related to the record heat this summer.

High temperatures "raise the levels of virus in the mosquitoes," said Lyle R. Petersen, M.D., director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, at a press conference. "So the hotter it is, the mosquitoes tend to become more infectious."

Of the 1,993 West Nile Virus cases, 1,069 (54 percent) were classified as 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), according to the CDC.

Forty-four states have reported at least one human case of West Nile virus, so far this year. But more than 70 percent of the cases have been reported from six states (Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas) and almost 45 percent of all cases have been reported from Texas.

"As of this week, 2012 is now officially our worst year in the state of Texas for West Nile disease," said David L. Lakey, M.D., commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, at the press conference.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection. 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]

Doug Podolsky

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