This Year Is the Worst-Ever for West Nile

Mosquitoes are spreading the deadly bug—here's how to protect yourself
Staff Writer

Camping, hiking, climbing and, hell, just being outside are all activities plagued by one thing—mosquitoes. Obnoxious ones, at that. Buzzing in your ears, taking their fill of your blood and then having the nerve to leave their giant bump-inducing saliva wherever they please. But this year, especially, mosquito bites may leave more to worry about than an itch.

To date, in Texas alone, 43 people have died from West Nile virus—and the state has recorded at least 510 cases of neuroinvasive West Nile, the most serious form of the illness that attacks the nervous system. What’s more, the West Nile season is far from over, with officials expecting emerging cases through mid-October and possibly beyond. For perspective, during the entirety of 2003, a mere 439 neuroinvasive cases were found throughout Texas, with just 40 deaths.

Though Texas isn’t the only state that’s been hard hit. The Center of Disease Control reported that in 2012, 48 states have reported West Nile infections in people, birds or mosquitoes, and 1,993 human cases (1,069 neuroinvasive, 924 non-neuroinvasive and 87 deaths) have been recorded, the largest reported number at this time of year since 1999, when the virus was first detected in the U.S. What’s more, the CDC’s numbers lag behind the real-time total, as symptoms can take weeks to develop (for instance, the CDC’s 87 death total only includes 35 of those 43 in Texas).

"Even if West Nile virus transmission were to stop today, we would continue to see reports of cases for several weeks," Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC told the Associated Press.

Experts speculate that higher than average summer temperatures could have contributed to the West Nile boom, though officials are still researching other causes.

So what’s there to do? Right now, protect yourself. Here’s what the CDC recommends:

  • Wear bug spray and don pants and long sleeves if you’re out at dusk or dawn.
  • Check your window screens to make sure there are no holes the nasty suckers could crawl through.
  • Don’t hang out near standing water. And if you have standing water near your home, get rid of it.
  • Leave dead birds alone (they’re the ones who give it to the skeeters).

And, hey, don’t freak out. Eighty percent of people who are infected don’t even develop symptoms and kick the virus to the curb without realizing it. But if you do experience symptoms (complete list here), get yourself to a doctor stet. Plus, scientists recently made serious headway on eliminating malaria, another mosquito-borne illness, so who knows what kind of future cures could be in the making?  

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