West Nile Outbreak
Cases of West Nile virus have spiked dramatically this year, and the numbers rose dramatically in just one week. In mid August, there were 693 reported cases for the year. By August 30, 1,590 cases were documented, with 66 people dead as a result.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about half of the West Nile cases reported were serious, but they also note that the disease is difficult to track. About 80% of victims have mild or no symptoms, and the virus incubates for two weeks, so it can be difficult to connect the mosquito bite to the illness.
Typically, West Nile cases peak about the middle of August, then taper off sharply through September and end in October. That hasn’t been the case this year. The numbers continued to rise long after they should have dropped off, much like the outbreaks in 2002 and 2003 which ended in thousands of severe cases and nearly 300 deaths in each year.
Symptoms of West Nile
Many people have no symptoms, but symptoms in more serious cases can include headaches, body aches, fever, nausea, swollen glands, and occasionally a rash on the midsection. Severe cases progress to neck pain, loss of vision, numbness, seizures, vomiting, paralysis, coma, and death.
Most at risk
Like most viral illnesses, West Nile is most dangerous to young children and the elderly, to people whose immune systems are compromised, and those who have underlying health issues. But the CDC cautions that anyone can contract West Nile, regardless of age or health.
States with outbreaks
In short – all of them. The only states that have reported no cases this year are Nevada, Hawaii, and Alaska. Texas has been hardest hit by far, reporting almost half of all the cases in the U.S. Here’s a CDC listing of West Nile statistics by state.
Scientists have noted global warming as a likely contributing factor, but there are many other things to consider. The economy may play a major role. Home foreclosures often result in standing water – pools left unattended, empty planters, or trash left behind by previous owners to collect rainwater. And then there are government cutbacks, where severe budget cuts often result in fewer services, including mosquito control.
It’s important that we pharmacists are able to recognize symptoms that may be more serious than flu or other viral infections, and talk to our customers about seeing a doctor, especially when a highly contagious disease like West Nile is on the rise. Would you know West Nile if it walked into your store looking for flu medicine? And more importantly, if someone comes in to ask for advice, would you ask the right questions?