Even with rain slowing up pesticide-spraying efforts in Dallas, officials are still determined to battle the mosquitoes that are causing a the nation’s worst outbreak of West Nile Virus in Dallas County, Texas, reports The Dallas Morning News.
The current West Nile outbreak in the Dallas area alone has grown to include 230 infections and 10 deaths, about half the total in Texas, which is the highest state tally in the country. The situation is so bad that the Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has declared a state of emergency.
The Dallas area has about 25 percent of the nation’s West Nile infections, but the fact is that West Nile Virus is in almost every state. The most up-to-date map from the CDC, which lists data as of Aug. 14, shows West Nile Virus in all states except Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia.
But let’s not all freak out. Unless you want to. Sometimes freaking out is rather satisfying. But if you’d rather not lose your mind at this particular moment, here are ten facts, straight from the US Centers for Disease Control, about West Nile Virus: what it is, how to avoid it, and what to do if you get it.
What are the symptoms of West Nile Virus?For most people, nothing at all. Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.
In some people, mild symptoms. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
In a few people, serious symptoms. About one in 150 people infected with West Nile Virus will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
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How Does West Nile Virus Spread?Most often, West Nile Virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to humans and other animals when they bite. People typically develop symptoms between 3 and 14 days after they are bitten by the infected mosquito.
In a very small number of cases, West Nile Virus also has been spread through breastfeeding and even during pregnancy from mother to baby.
West Nile Virus is not spread through casual contact such as touching or kissing a person with the virus.
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Who’s Most at Risk?People over 50 have the highest risk of getting severe illness.
Of course, for everyone, the more time you’re outdoors, the more time you could be bitten by an infected mosquito. Does this mean your kids should never play outside again? No. Just pay attention to avoiding mosquito bites when you’re outside.
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What is the treatment for West Nile Virus?There is no specific treatment for West Nile Virus infection. In cases with milder symptoms, people experience symptoms such as fever and aches that pass on their own, although even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
In more severe cases, people usually need to go to the hospital where they can receive supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care.
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I think I or someone in my family has West Nile Virus. I should panic, right?No. Milder West Nile Virus illness improves on its own, and people do not necessarily need to seek medical attention for this infection (although, of course, you can).
However, If you develop symptoms of severe West Nile Virus illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, seek medical attention immediately. Severe West Nile Virus illness usually requires hospitalization.
Pregnant women and nursing mothers are encouraged to talk to their doctor if they develop symptoms that could be West Nile Virus.
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OHMYGAH I found a dead bird. I should panic, right?Probably not, although the CDC says, and I quote, “Don’t handle the body with your bare hands.” In case you thought handling dead birds with your bare hands was ever a good idea.
But since massive amounts of dead birds can signal that birds are infected in your area, you’re supposed to contact your local health department for instructions on reporting and disposing of the body. They may tell you to dispose of the bird after they log your report.
How to find your local health agency? Google the name of your state and “dead bird.” Believe me, it’ll pop up. My state, Pennsylvania, even has a handy online “I found a dead bird” Freak-Out Reporting Site, presumably designed so that health officials don’t have to field panicky calls from neurotic moms like me every time they see a cat with a dead bird in its mouth. FYI, the best part of reporting a dead bird through this website is the subsequent e-mail you receive, with the subject line, “Thanks for your Dead Bird report.”.
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Cover, spray, or hide. Or all three.When you are outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. Follow the directions on the package.
Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.
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Even that awesome Batman pool could be a breeding ground.One of the most important things people can do to reduce the mosquito population around them (and thus their risk of West Nile Virus) is to eliminate any standing water on their property. Standing water is where mosquitoes breed, which is digusting on so many levels.
Empty kiddie pools when you’re done, and leave them on their sides so they don’t fill up with rain. Remove any puddles in flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out.
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Around the house…To keep mosquitoes out of your home, make sure that screens in doors and windows are all in good condition.
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Hey, what’s that stuff coming out of the sky? Is it safe?To combat the mosquitoes, the Dallas area is being treated with pesticide, delivered aerially by small, twin-engine planes. Although the EPA has judged the pesticide (in this case something called “Duet” to be safe, the CDC does recommend that people who are concerned about exposure to a pesticide, such as those with chemical sensitivity or breathing conditions such as asthma can reduce their potential for exposure by staying indoors during the application period. Clarke, the company contracted by Dallas to do the aerial spraying, has scheduled all the spraying to take place at night, when more people (and pets) are indoors, anyway.
A 2003 study found that aerial spraying does pose “a low risk for acute, temporary health effects.” The study found that a small number of people had skin or eye irritation, and respiratory reactions such as exacerbation of asthma.
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(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, with added nonsense by Joslyn Gray for Strollerderby)
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