Watch Out for West Nile This Summer

West Nile virus cases in 2012

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) An outbreak of West Nile virus is one of those summer rituals we don't look forward to. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, the virus is making itself more present than usual.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that more severe cases of West Nile virus have been reported so far this year than any year since 2004.

A staggering 241 cases, including four deaths, had been reported by the end of July, and occurred mostly in Texas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

"Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites this summer."

West Nile virus is carried and transmitted by infected mosquitos. The virus thrives during the summer, and outbreaks are expected to occur between June and September, with infections peaking in mid-August.

This year has had the most reported cases at the end of July since 2004. West Nile was first discovered in New York in 1999, and the number of illnesses had been on the decline.

According to the Associated Press, public health officials believe that the mild winter, early spring, and unusually hot summer weather have enabled mosquitos to breed in greater numbers. That means that there's more potential for the virus to be carried and spread.

Getting bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile doesn't mean you'll get sick. Only one out of five people bitten experience symptoms.

Symptoms of West Nile include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. The virus can progress to a serious neurologic (brain-related) illness such as encephalitis or meningitis.

You may have a more severe infection if you experience neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.

This year, out of the 241 cases reported so far, 144 were severe cases.

People at higher risk for serious illness are those over 50, and those with medical conditions including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and organ transplants.

Currently, no medications or vaccines exist to treat or prevent infection. Milder cases often resolve themselves, although the symptoms linger for weeks.

For more severe cases, patients receive hospitalization and supportive treatment. If you think you have West Nile symptoms, contact your doctor.

The CDC recommends these measures to minimize your exposure to mosquitos:

  • Use insect repellents when you go outdoors.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants during dawn and dusk.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors. Use air conditioning, if you have it.
  • Empty standing water from items outside your home such as flowerpots, buckets, and kiddie pools.
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 2, 2012
Last Updated:
May 13, 2013