According to the Centers for Disease Control at least 87 people have died from West Nile virus (WNV) infection in the United States this year, 43 of them in Texas. CNN reported that this year had the “highest case count through the last week of Aug. since the virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.”
It is not the highest number that the country has seen-in 2002 284 fatalities were reported nationwide-but since WNV made its first Western hemisphere appearance with the 1999 outbreak in New York City, Texas has been the site of nearly half of all WNV-related illnesses, causing great concern for many residents.
The dry, hot weather across the nation has created ideal conditions for accelerated maturation of certain species of mosquitoes. During droughts, standing water stagnates faster, providing more breeding grounds, and high temperatures quicken the mosquito’s life cycle. This results in more mosquitoes, which increases the spread of the virus.
Most of those who contract the virus will show no symptoms and simply recover on their own, but there have been an increasing number of severe infections, as well as deaths. Through detailed research conducted by the Center for Disease Control and the Department of State Health it had been discovered that people over 50 years of age and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they are infected with the virus.
WNV is a mosquito-borne illness named for its origins in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East. The illness can cause flu-like symptoms (fever, body aches, skin rashes, swollen lymph glands) as well as swelling of the brain or swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds or other animals, then transfer the illness when they bite humans.
Methods to prevent contracting WNV include using repellents that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus; avoiding going outdoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active; eliminating all standing water where mosquitoes can breed; and making sure screens on windows and doors are properly maintained.