Today Missouri health officials announced the first official death from West Nile virus in Missouri this year. Thus far in 2012, more than 1,100 cases nationwide of West Nile virus have been reported to the CDC, making this year's outbreak the largest since it was first detected in the U.S. in 1999.
The majority of cases occur during August and September, and with a record number of reported cases already, it's important to know how to recognize West Nile virus and, most importantly, how to prevent it.
West Nile virus is most commonly caused by mosquitoes that pick up the disease from birds. Even though most cases of West Nile lead to mild illness, some cases can turn serious and cause permanent neurological damage.
The CDC says that the easiest way to avoid West Nile virus is to prevent mosquito bites using the following techniques:
- 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.
- Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from 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. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.
Although about 80 percent of people don't show any symptoms of the virus, up to 20 percent might experience fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, but usually mild symptoms will go away on their own. People over the age of 50 are at higher risk to develop serious symptoms, which often require hospitalization.
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