According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more cases of the West Nile virus in 2012 than any year, making it the worst West Nile virus outbreak since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999.

Nearly 700 cases of the virus have been reported across the country as of August 14, including 26 deaths.

Dr. George DiFerdinando Jr., Director of The New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness, said:

“Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Normally, the number of mosquitoes decreases greatly during the cold months, with a small proportion of mosquitoes surviving, or ‘overwintering.’ This year, wild a mild winter, most mosquitos survived and so we’re seeing a bumper crop.”

West Nile virus, which does no spread via person to person casual contact, is a seasonal epidemic in North America, and is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Individuals infected with the virus tend to develop symptoms between 3-14 days after being bitten. Although 80% of infected individuals will not experience any symptoms, 20% suffer from symptoms, such as body aches, fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, swollen lymph glands, or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for a few days, or as long as several weeks.

However, approximately 1 in 150 people infected with the virus will develop severe, potentially fatal, illness. Symptoms can include, stupor, headache, high fever, vision loss, muscle weakness, coma, tremors, convulsions, neck stiffness, disorientation, numbness and paralysis. In severe cases of the disease, neurological effects may be permanent.

Dr. DiFerdinando, explained:

“Anyone with a compromised immune system is at a higher risk to contract a severe form of the illness. This includes those of us over 50, those with disease such as blood cancers or HIV and people who are taking medicines that weaken the immune system, like prednisone. These people as well as anyone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

Dr. DiFerdinano recommends taking the following precautions to minimize your risk of being bitten:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants of Permethrin-treated clothing.
  • Stay indoors at dawn and dusk, as these are the times when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flowerpots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and place the water in birdbaths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they are not being used.
  • Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Use EPA-approved insect repellent like DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (of its synthetic version, PMD) or IR3535. Spray the repellent on your clothes before you put them on – not directly on your skin – and allow the clothes to dry before putting them on. Shower when you come inside.

Written by Grace Rattue