Our hospital is on the lookout and the CDC has put out the word. The West Nile virus has never struck the U.S. as hard as it is striking now.
The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. is now 1,118 including 41 deaths. Recent weeks have shown a dramatic increase in cases so we need to prepare for more to come.
The most troubling finding is that 56% of the cases have been the more aggressive (neuroinvasive) disease, while the rest have been the noninvasive type, which typically leads to fever, and muscle aches. The CDC suspects, however, that only 2%-3% of all people with milder cases actually get reported since many people with milder disease don’t go to the doctor or the doctor does not recognize it as a case. The bad news is, there is no specific treatment for West Nile.
Where have most cases of West Nile been? Most of the cases have occurred in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma; with a staggering 50% of cases from Texas alone, Dallas has been hit particularly hard.
I’m certainly not trying to be an alarmist but as a Primary Care Doctor what worries me is we now have many more cases than in all the previous years of West Nile combined.
Here’s what we need to know:
1. The peak usually occurs in mid-August (right smack where we are.)
2. It takes a couple of weeks before people become sick so we expect many more cases to occur through the end of September. The incubation period is 2-14 days.
3. Once you are infected with West Nile you have lifetime immunity and it is unlikely you will get infected again.
4. West Nile infection leads to fever, headache, body aches, decreased appetite and a rash (in about half of cases.)
5. Blood tests can be done to confirm the diagnosis.
6. A mild winter, early spring, and exceptionally hot summer have probably contributed to the high West Nile activity. Hot weather seems to promote major outbreaks.
7. All blood donors are now screened for West Nile virus.
- Dr. O
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