The U.S. is bracing itself against one of the worst outbreaks of the West Nile virus ever recorded. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is the largest number of reported cases since 2004 and one of the largest since the disease was first detected in the U.S. in 1999.
As of Wednesday, 1,221 cases were reported in 38 states, resulting in at least 43 deaths. The majority of cases have been reported in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma, while the state hit hardest by the virus is Texas. 11 people have died from the virus in Dallas County alone, where officials have declared a state of emergency. Planes spraying pesticides to kill the disease-carrying mosquitoes have been crisscrossing the skies over the city. According to an Aug. 17 Yahoo News article, this is the first time the city of Dallas has used aerial spraying since 1966.
In Kansas, 33 cases have been confirmed, most of which were located in Sedgwick County. Patti Grub, communicable disease nurse for the Riley County Health Department, said there have not been any cases reported in Riley County at this time, but there has been one confirmed case in neighboring Pottawatomie County. The last case of West Nile in Riley County was recorded in 2009.
“We can assume we might have some cases,” Grub said.
Grub said there is no cure for West Nile as it is a virus, but that it is self-resolving, meaning people get better on their own. Most people do not show any symptoms of the virus, while some develop flu-like symptoms. Infants, children, adults over 50 and people who are immune-compromised are most at-risk. A vaccine does exist for horses and Grub recommended that farmers get their horses vaccinated to protect them.
“It is not clear why we are seeing more activity than in recent years,” said Marc Fischer, medical epidemiologist at the CDC, in an Aug. 19 CNN article. “Regardless of the reasons for the increase, people should be aware of the West Nile virus activity in their area and take action to protect themselves and their family.”
Grub advised people take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites, recommending staying indoors in the evenings when mosquitoes are most active. He also suggested wearing mosquito repellent when outdoors and making sure there is no standing water on the property for mosquitoes to breed.