West Nile Virus shows 1 Utah case, 2,000 in Colorado

Posted Thursday, October 9, 2003 - 12:00am

If CEU students, staff, and faculty are planning to spend their fall break out of doors, they are encouraged to take plenty of bug spray containing DEET and wearing long sleeve t-shirts and pants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), West Nile Virus (WNV) is a potentially serious illness. Experts believe WNV is well known as a seasonal epidemic in North America flaring up in the summer and continuing into the fall. One human case has been found in Utah as well as several animal cases.

West Nile Virus affects the central nervous system and symptoms vary. Approximately 80 percent of people who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected will display mild 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 typically last a few days. About one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. 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, added CDC.

So, how does it spread you might ask? According to CDC, generally WNV is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes are WNV carriers that become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can spread WNV to humans and other animals when they bite. In a small number of cases, WNV has spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breast-feeding and even during pregnancy from mother to baby. WNV is not spread through casual contact such as touching or kissing a person with the virus, reports the CDC.

CDC states that people typically develop symptoms between three and 14 days after they are bitten by the infected mosquito. There is no specific treatment for WNV infection. In cases with mild symptoms, people experience symptoms such as fever and aches that pass on their own. In more severe cases, people usually need to go to the hospital where they can receive supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care.

What should you do if you think you might have the virus? According to CDC, mild WNV illness improves on its own, and people do not necessarily need to seek medical attention for this infection. If you develop symptoms of severe WNV illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, seek medical attention immediately. Severe WNV illness usually requires hospitalization. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are encouraged to talk to their doctor if they develop symptoms that could be WNV.

For most, the risk is low. Less than 1 percent of people who are bitten by mosquitoes develop any symptoms of the disease and relatively few mosquitoes actually carry WNV, according to CDC.

There is a greater risk for those outdoors a lot. People who spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely to be bitten by an infected mosquito. They should take special care to avoid mosquito bites, added CDC.

According to CDC, people over 50 can get sicker. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms of WNV if they do get sick and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites. Risk through medical procedures is low. The risk of getting WNV through blood transfusions and organ transplants is very small, and should not prevent people who need surgery from having it. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor before surgery.

The easiest and best way to avoid WNV is to prevent mosquito bites. When you are outdoors, use insect repellents containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). Follow the directions on the package. Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Consider staying indoors during these times or use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants. Light-colored clothing can help you see mosquitoes that land on you. Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill drainage holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used, reported CDC.

CDC is working with state and local health departments, the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies, as well as private industry, to prepare for and prevent new cases of WNV.

West Nile Virus is a major concern for the outdoor-minded traveling throughout the United States, with Texas and Colorado reporting the highest incidents of human exposure this season, says Carla Land from Adventure Travel. But nearly a dozen other states have reported confirmed cases of WNV, and health officials are warning the expected westward movement of the disease across the U.S. will continue, making outdoor adventuring a greater risk, added Land.

According to Land, the threat of the mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus is a real concern for adventure travelers taking to the woods and back country for hiking and camping excursions. But understanding the threat and knowing the measures you can take to protect your health is the first step in fighting mosquito-borne diseases and keeping the backcountry open as a safe travel alternative.

West Nile virus has been commonly found in humans and birds and other vertebrates in Africa, Eastern Europe, West Asia and the Middle East, but until 1999 it had not previously been documented in the Western Hemisphere. West Nile Virus is the cause of encephalitis - the swelling of the brain caused by flavivirus, commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East - and it can often prove deadly, reported Land.

According to Land, not everyone infected by the virus is marked for death. Even in areas where the virus is circulating, few mosquitoes are infected. Even if the mosquito is infected, less than one percent of people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill. The chances you will become severely ill from any one mosquito bite is extremely small.

Among those with severe illness due to West Nile virus, case-fatality rates range from 3 percent to 15 percent and are highest among the elderly. Less than one percent of persons infected with West Nile Virus develop severe illness, added Land.

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