(CBS News) Dallas planes took to the skies Friday to spray insecticides to combat the worst West Nile virus outbreak the United States has seen this year. Thus far, 10 people have been killed and at least 230 others have been sickened in the Dallas County area.
Nearly half of all West Nile cases in the U.S. so far this year are in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the trend continues, 2012 will be the worst West Nile year in state history.
Dallas begins aerial assault on West Nile virus
Nationwide, recent CDC estimates say there are 694 reported cases of West Nile virus spread across 43 states, including 26 deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30,000 people in the U.S. have reported getting sick with the West Nile Virus since 1999. The disease spreads to humans most often through bites from infected mosquitoes. The mosquitoes themselves get West Nile virus when they feed on infected birds, and then spread it to humans and other animals when they bite.
The good news is about 80 percent of people who are infected with the virus won’t show any symptoms at all. Up to 20 percent, however, may develop a fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash. These symptoms may last a few days or a few weeks, even in otherwise healthy people.
But about one in 150 people will develop a severe illness, in which they may have a high fever, neck stiffness, convulsions, vision loss, paralysis, coma or other neurological effects that may be permanent.
“That’s scary stuff,” Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, an allergist/immunologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told HealthPop.
What’s especially serious about this outbreak, he said, is the CDC reports the majority (59 percent) of reported cases are neuoroinvasive, meaning they can lead to meningitis or encephalitis. Bassett said these cases have increasingly been seen in adults over 50, and such brain-swelling complications can be fatal. Like many other infectious diseases, children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems – such as those with HIV or cancer – may face a greater risk.
Bassett, who is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU, said this current epidemic is being driven by unseasonably warm humid weather week after week across the country, followed by spouts of rain that leads to standing water.
“With proper protective measures, you can really reduce your risk down to a small number,” he said.
Community-based control programs that reduce the mosquito population, like the spraying in Dallas, is one way to effectively reduce the mosquito population, he said.
But the CDC and Bassett, say the easiest and best way to avoid the virus is to prevent getting a mosquito bite in the first place.
Apply insect repellant that contains an EPA-registered active ingredient, such as DEET, to skin or clothing before you head out doors. Bassett said many people don’t realize the prime times to get bit are dusk and dawn, and people may not worry about their bug bite risk when they are outdoors, or camping or at the beach.
The CDC adds that people should not spray repellants under clothing, over open cuts, wounds or irritated skin, nor near the eyes, mouth or directly on the face. Other repellants containing Picaridin may be used, and for those concerned with chemicals, there is oil of lemon eucalyptus. But Bassett says with natural products the protection likely won’t last as long.
“You can prevent 90 to 100 percent of bite reactions by applying the appropriate insecticide,” he said. Such tips can be applied to preventing other insect-borne diseases, like Lyme disease or babesiosis.
After returning indoors, wash the skin with soap and water, this is particularly important when repellants are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days, the CDC says. Treated clothing should be washed also before it is used again. People who have an allergic reaction to the repellant should see a doctor.
Health officials also recommend draining standing water, where mosquitoes breed.
Bassett urged Americans not take the ongoing outbreak lightly, and to take steps to protect themselves.
“It’s really no joke,” he warned. “People need to be proactive because although rare, West Nile virus can lead to a severe form that may cause paralysis and encephalitis.”
MYFOXNY.COM – Before you get your summer festivities going, you’re going to need to protect yourself from those uninvited guests: mosquitoes and ticks.
If you find you’re getting a lot more bug bites than anyone else at the party, experts say mosquitoes really are attracted to some people more than others.
Dr. Clifford Bassett, the medical director at Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, comes to Fox 5 News with some very helpful tips.
Each year millions of us have the not so enjoyable experience of getting bitten by a mosquito, especially during the summer months almost everywhere! Are there more mosquitos or more of us getting bitten? Yup, according to a recent study which found a three fold increase in bites over the past decade or so? This could be just another effect of global warming.
What is the reason why some of us experience a larger reaction (increased area of swelling and redness at the bite site) vs. those who seem to have pretty low key reactions? The answer may be in whether or not you are sensitive to the proteins present in the insect’s saliva; hence you are allergic to mosquito bites!
There are a variety of reactions mosquito bites may cause, varying from a small amount of redness, swelling and itchiness, all the way up to those who experience extensive redness and swelling. Rarely, a full blown generalized allergic reaction (Skeeter’s syndrome) can be seen as well. In fact one of my patients recently required emergency department treatment, including intravenous medication for a severe reaction to her bites.
Get tested for mosquito allergy!
Recently, I have begun performing an in-office, quick, simple skin test to determine if you are truly “allergic” or sensitive to mosquitoes. Always consult with your health care provider if you experience large generalized reactions after getting bitten by a mosquito, or another insect. Evaluation is mandatory for those who have experienced a generalized allergic type reaction to any biting, or stinging insect. Be prepared if you seem to get lots of bad mosquito bites. Have a mosquito bite treatment plan in place.
An ounce of prevention is worth a lot.
That means defensive measures really work and may give you a leg up in avoiding “the bite!” First, those who smell nice (use scented products) and sweat a lot may be more attractive to mosquitoes. Second, prime biting times are usually dawn and dusk. Third, wearing long sleeves and pants (tucked in to shoes) reduces exposed areas, particularly if you will be hiking or walking in a wooded area.
How to repel
There is a variety of DEET-containing insect repellent products ranging from a concentration of 5-10 percent, all the way up to 30-40 percent. The strength of the DEET will dictate how long (hours) you may remain “bite-free.” Alternatively, natural (eucalyptus oils, etc) insect repellent products are available. Use these products as directed on the label.
Now if you are unlucky and get bitten, bite treatment can provide significant relief. Cleaning the area of the bite is essential, and using an over the counter or a prescription strength steroid cream will reduce itch and localized discomfort. Remember, a cool ice compress will also reduce swelling.
Hope this helps to keep you bite free, and take the “sting” out of summer!