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West Nile Virus

Are your children at risk?

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Updated September 01, 2013

Updated September 01, 2013

Unless you live in an area that has been severely affected by the West Nile virus, you might think it is some exotic illness that only affects people in Egypt.

Unfortunately, the virus has spread from where it was first discovered in Uganda and Egypt to Europe, Asia and most recently, the United States.

West Nile Virus

Since it was first found in the North Eastern US in 1999, the West Nile virus has worked its way westward, so that in 2002, there were confirmed human cases in Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and California.

In 2003, the CDC reported that the West Nile virus has been found in 46 states around the US. The only states without any reported cases in 2003 were Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska. And last year, West Nile virus infections were reported in all 48 states of the Continental United States.

Other West Nile virus facts:

  • In 2003 there were 9,862 cases of West Nile virus related human illness confirmed to CDC, including 264 deaths.
  • In 2002 there were 4,156 cases of West Nile virus related human illness confirmed to CDC, including 284 deaths.
  • Since 1999, more than 30,000 people in the US have gotten sick with West Nile virus.
  • Cases occur primarily in the late summer or early fall, with a peak in mid-August.
  • Although the West Nile virus has now been found in all 48 states of the Continental United States, in 2012, two-thirds of all cases were reported from six states (Texas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, Michigan, and Oklahoma), with 40% from just Texas alone.

There have been a total of 5,674 cases of West Nile virus infections in the United States in 2012. This includes 2,969 neuroinvasive cases (meningitis or encephalitis) and 286 deaths.

Parents who are worried about West Nile, sometimes to the point of not letting their kids go outside to play, should keep in mind that of the 5,674 cases in 2012, only 210 were in children and teens less than age 18.

2013 West Nile Virus Season

So far, in 2013, as of late August, there have been 421 cases of West Nile virus infections reported to the CDC, and there have already been 13 deaths. This includes 197 cases that were classified as neuroinvasive disease. Keep in mind that since West Nile virus season typically doesn't peak until late August and continues into September, there is still a long way to go this year and the 2013 West Nile virus case count will almost certainly rise.

This is a good time to learn how to get ready and learn how to control mosquitoes around your home, avoid mosquito bites, use insect repellent properly, and learn what your community is doing to control mosquitoes.

You should also report dead birds to your state and local health department, as they can be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating in your area. Birds can also get infected with the West Nile virus, and some, especially crows and jays, can die of the infection. Although you can't get the West Nile virus from one of these sick birds, mosquitoes can become infected by biting them and can then bite you or your children.

West Nile Virus Symptoms

Fortunately, very few people who become infected with the West Nile virus will develop serious symptoms. The most common West Nile virus symptoms, which usually develop 3-14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, are similar to many other viral infections and include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • body aches
  • skin rash
  • swollen lymph glands

More seriously, the West Nile virus can cause encephalitis, with 'headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis, and, rarely, death.'

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for West Nile virus infections, but if you suspect that you or your child has become infected, you should see your doctor. An antibody test can help to confirm an infection, and may be done if your child has severe symptoms. Keep in mind that most people with mild symptoms will not need testing.

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