A spike in total reported cases of West Nile Virus has been declared a public-health emergency in some southern states, but in Ohio, concern is low.
In Texas, the mosquito-borne virus has infected 733 people and caused at least 30 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control, or the CDC. The numbers for Ohio are significantly lower, with 49 total cases and one fatality.
Joan Seidel, the infection preventionist at Robinson Memorial Hospital, said that while West Nile is a concern in Ohio, it’s nothing to really worry about. Seidel said the Ohio Department of Health believes the West Nile season will continue through October because of the warm weather.
She said there are a range of symptoms caused by the virus that people should be aware of. She said the seriousness of the symptoms varies case by case. In mild cases, some of the signs listed by Seidel might not be recognized as West Nile symptoms because she said they are “flu-like.” Headache, fever, body aches and rashes are all common in effects of both West Nile and the flu.
“But in more severe cases that don’t happen as often, thankfully, those would be symptoms of higher fever or perhaps convulsions,” she said. “You could have problems with vision loss, weakness as well as paralysis and death if it’s not treated.”
In Portage County, Seidel said there is only one suspect case of West Nile. Confirmed cases are based on laboratory results that are tested by hospitals and the Ohio Department of Health. She said suspect cases can become confirmed cases after the results are complete.
A bite from an infected mosquito is how the disease is transferred, according to the CDC. It is nearly impossible for the average person to tell the difference between an infected mosquito and a non-infected mosquito, but there are some precautions to be noted.
Seidel said currently there is no vaccine to prevent West Nile Virus, but she encourages people who venture outdoors to wear bug spray and reapply as necessary until the temperature drops. Other ways to prevent a bite are to be aware that mosquitoes are out from dusk to dawn and to cover exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts and pants.
“I think that [the CDC] recommends wearing light-colored clothing. It’s not as attractive to mosquitoes as some dark-colored clothing,” she said. “Make sure that if you have windows open that you have screens in place. Also, remove any standing water from your property or yard.”
As of Aug. 28, the CDC reported that there are 1590 total cases of West Nile and 64 deaths in the United States. In 2011 there were 712 cases and 43 deaths. Seidel said West Nile is a cyclical virus, and the jump in numbers can happen for many reasons, such as stagnant water or hot weather, both of which increase breeding conditions for mosquitoes.
The first known cases were reported in New York in 1999. In 2003, an outbreak spread across the country, infecting almost 10,000 people, according to the CDC.
Seidel said she believes that people are worried about West Nile because people hear that they can die from it or have long-lasting problems.
“We also know that there have been more cases because the situation has been ripe for West Nile to spread,” she said. “Like I said, we are seeing more cases in Ohio. In Texas, they’re seeing more West Nile than any other region in the United States, probably followed by Mississippi and South Dakota. Every state in the Union either has positive cases or positive mosquitoes. The infection is there.”
Contact Maura Zurick at [email protected]