Did you know 2012 marked the second worst outbreak of the West Nile virus in its history in the United States? Although most of those infected do not experience any symptoms, it can be potentially severe for some.
According to the Missouri Department of Health, there were 21 human cases reported in the state last year, six of which occurred in the city of St. Louis. There were three fatalities as a result of the outbreak.
The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease found in wild birds that was first detected in the U.S. in 1999, with the worst outbreak occurring in 2003. The cycle begins when a mosquito feeds on an infected bird before transmitting it to other uninfected birds. Occasionally, infected mosquitoes also transmit it to mammals. Luckily, mammals cannot transmit the virus to one another.
For the 20 percent of those infected who feel the effects of the virus, symptoms appear about three to 15 days after exposure. They include fever, headache, tiredness, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes. In less than one percent of cases, the nervous system may be infected. This causes either meningitis, which is an inflammation of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord, or encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
Symptoms usually last only a few days, but if they are severe and/or last for weeks, you should see a doctor.
“Although few people are affected by the virus, it is still important that we protect ourselves against it in order to avoid the rare cases when it is severe,” said Mano Patri, MD, director of infection control and infectious disease physician at SSM St. Joseph Hospital West in Lake Saint Louis.
The West Nile virus season usually occurs from late summer to the early fall, but this changes every year depending on the heat patterns of the weather. This year, with the large amount of rain and temperatures creeping up, West Nile virus could become a real threat. Researchers have not yet developed a vaccine for the disease, but there are ways to protect against it.
“If you hear that the virus is in your area, especially given the high amount of rain we have had, you should wear long sleeves and pants as well as spray yourself with insect repellent before going outside,” said Dr. Patri.
Mosquitoes thrive in warm, moist environments, so remove any standing water on your property to help reduce mosquito activity around your house. It is also important to remember that mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk.
About SSM St. Joseph Hospital West
SSM St. Joseph Hospital West in Lake Saint Louis, Mo., was established in 1986 to meet the expanding health care needs of western St. Charles County. The 122-bed acute care hospital maintains a state-designated Level III Trauma Center, a nationally accredited Chest Pain Center and Primary Stroke Center, and is a winner Premier QUEST High Performing Hospital Award. It is a member of SSM Health Care – St. Louis, a Missouri Quality Award winner. The facility offers a broad range of services and programs including SSM Cancer Care, SSM Neurosciences Institute, SSM Heart Institute and a dedicated pediatric emergency department. SSM St. Joseph Hospital West is the largest provider of health care services in western St. Charles, Warren and Lincoln counties. For more information about SSM St. Joseph Hospital West, visit www.ssmstjosephwest.com.