News on Wellness

West Nile Virus Hitting the United States Again

west nile virusAlthough the West Nile Virus has been around for a long time, having first been identified in Uganda back in 1937, it was not until the summer of 1999 when the first case was confirmed in the United States. Just one year later, it became a real threat for people in Michigan and by 2011 a toll-free hotline has been established to help report early indicators in the form of animal deaths.

Going forward, other confirmed cases of the West Nile Virus were reported throughout the country. As the numbers rose, scientists and researchers began to study this mosquito-borne disease as a way of finding a viable diagnostic tool and ultimately, a vaccination. Although there are now different methods used to diagnose West Nile Virus, no vaccination exists as of today.

Every year, new cases of this disease are reported and as of just last week, 10 new ones have been added to the list in Louisiana, totaling 52 cases of West Nile Virus in 2014. The numbers are climbing not just in Louisiana but across the country. However, Louisiana has been hit especially hard and as such, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) strongly encourages people to take cautionary measures of protection.

After confirming 10 new cases, seven that were the neuroinvasive disease, officials have growing concern. Louisiana now has the highest number of West Nile Virus cases in the United States and because of this, the DHH provides a weekly Airbovirus Surveillance Report in which residents know by parish details of detected cases.

Because the West Nile Virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito, it is critical that people use appropriate protection in the form of closing, insect repellant, and staying away from water, especially standing water associated with lakes and ponds.

After being bitten, the virus spreads, causing serious health risks in several ways. The most serious is called West Nile neuroinvasive disease, which infects the spinal cord and brain, and in rare instances, can lead to paralysis, brain damage, and even death. The mildest form is known as West Nile Fever, which produces flu-like symptoms in most people.

Only 10% of infected people will develop West Nile Fever with the remaining 90% having no symptoms at all. This means the majority of people with this virus are infected without even knowing it. However, through a blood test, the presence of this disease can be detected. While everyone is at risk, those older than 65 years of age are considered “high risk”.

West Nile Virus neuroinvasive disease had dropped to 34 cases reported in Louisiana last year from 204 from 2002. According to the DHH, this virus has been tracked for over 10 years but experts are still working hard to develop a vaccine.

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