LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Ark. Dept. of Health) - The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has recorded a fifth death from West Nile virus, setting a new record for deaths in a single year. The previous high was four, which was the total for both 2005 and 2006. The total number of illnesses in the state so far this year is now 41, which approaches the highest number of cases in one year since there were 43 in 2002, the first year that the disease was diagnosed in Arkansas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a telebriefing last week that "we've turned the corner on the epidemic," but warned that cases will most likely continue through October.
Gary Wheeler, MD, branch chief of the Infectious Disease Branch at ADH, says that cooler weather may slow the activity of the mosquitoes down some, but those individuals who are most at risk must continue to be vigilant.
"Most people who become infected will never even know it," Wheeler said. "Less than one percent of those who become infected will develop serious disease. However, we are very concerned about the people who are at highest risk for serious complications from this infection: the elderly; immuno-compromised persons; those who suffer from serious chronic illnesses; and some others who might become very sick if they get infected."
West Nile virus is transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes. In the United States, most people are infected from June through September, and the number of these infections usually peaks in mid-August. Seasonal outbreaks often occur in local areas that can vary from year to year. Many factors impact when and where outbreaks occur, such as weather, numbers of mosquitoes that spread the virus and human behavior.
"It is not clear why we are seeing more activity than in recent years," said Susan Weinstein, DVM, MPH, state public health veterinarian at the Arkansas Department of Health. "Regardless of the reasons for the increase, people should be aware we have West Nile virus in our state and take action to protect themselves and their family from mosquitos," Weinstein said.
The best way to prevent West Nile virus disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Do this by practicing the "Three D's.
• Drain standing water from your yard. Empty standing water in flowerpots, buckets and kiddie pools.
• Don't go out at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes feed without protective clothing (long sleeves and pants).
• Do use insect repellents with the active ingredient DEET when you go outdoors.
Approximately one in five people who are infected with West Nile virus will develop symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Less than one percent will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die. People over 50 years of age and those with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and organ transplants are at greater risk for serious illness.
There are no medications to treat, or vaccines to prevent, human West Nile virus infection. People with milder illnesses typically recover on their own, although symptoms may last for several weeks. In more severe cases, patients often need to be hospitalized to receive supportive treatment, such as intravenous fluids, pain medication and nursing care. Anyone who has symptoms that cause concern should contact a health care provider.
For more information, visit the Arkansas Department of Health's website or go to the CDC's website.