Potentially fatal West Nile Virus sweeps across America

Have you ever heard of the ‘West Nile Virus’? If not, you probably will this week as news has emerged of the highly deadly mosquito-borne disease that is causing hundreds of deaths in the United States and health officials are bracing themselves for what could be the worst year ever for the particular virus.

The West Nile Virus (WNV) received its name after first being identified in the West Nile sub-region of the East African nation of Uganda in 1937. The condition ends up eventually effecting humans after a person is bitten by a mosquito that has previously bitten an infected bird. It is thought that the majority of cases of WNV are not serious and have no symptoms. The milder form of the disease is segregated as ‘West Nile fever’.

However, generally one in five people will feel unwell and the early symptoms are very similar to another mosquito-related disease, Malaria. They include headache, muscle aches, fever, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite. These milder flu-like symptoms will usually last for around 3-6 days. Unfortunately, there is one in 150 who go on to develop more severe symptoms, which can be sometimes life-threatening. The more serious cases can see the sufferer experience disorientation, loss of consciousness, stiffness to the neck and even paralysis.

Before the mid-1990s, WNV was relatively uncommon and not considered to be a huge risk for humans. Then in 1994, Algeria was hit with an outbreak of the virus and then Romania witness a similar occurrence in 1996. In fact it was not until 1999 that the Western Hemisphere first witnessed a case of the disease, when a diagnosis was made in New York City.

Since then, the problem has become global, which brings us to the present day. Since the beginning of 2012 there have been 118 deaths that are connected to West Nile virus according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This has gone up from a figure of 87 reported on 2 September, meaning the death toll is rapidly increasing. The number of cases to be reported this year in total stands at 2,636 and on 2 September the number stood at 1,993, a 32% increase in less than a fortnight.

The primary area of danger appears to be in the state of Texas which is accountable for 40% of all of the latest human cases of the disease, the CDC confirmed. Other states in the U.S. that have been breakouts of the disease include Louisiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, Michigan and Oklahoma.

The previous most deadly year of the WNV came a decade ago in 2002 when approximately 3,000 severe cases of the virus were reported, resulting in 284 fatalities. Many of the deaths occur because of the fatal complications that can eventually develop, such as meningitis or encephalitis.

On the CDC website, it states: “The 2,636 cases reported thus far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the second week in September since 2003.” The risks show no sign of slowing though, with Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases for the CDC commenting, “We are still seeing many, many new cases continue to come in”, adding that the number of deaths is predicted to keep on rising.

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