In 2002, additional routes have become apparent, however this represents a very small proportion of cases. These routes include receiving transplanted organs and blood transfusions, transplacental and possibly breastfeeding transmission, and laboratory workers working with WN-infected products.
Who is most at risk? People over 50 years of age have the highest risk of developing a severe illness because as we age, our bodies have a harder time fighting off disease. People with compromised immune systems are also at increased risk. However, anyone can get the virus. What are the symptoms? People with mild infections may experience fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands, this is called West Nile Fever. People with more severe infections may experience high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis, this is called West Nile Encephalitis. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. Are there long-term consequences? While most infections are usually mild, West Nile Encephalitis can result in death or serious brain damage. Some improvements may be seen after some time. Is there treatment or a vaccine? There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection, nor a vaccine. While most people fully recover from the viral infection, in some severe cases hospitalization may be needed. How can I protect myself? It is not necessary to limit any outdoor activities, unless local officials advise you otherwise. However, you can and should try to reduce your risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. In addition to reducing standing water in your yard, make sure all windows and doors have screens, and that all screens are in good repair. If West Nile virus is found in your area:
Is my pregnancy at risk if I get infected?
There has been one documented case of transplacental (mother-to-child) transmission. This newborn was also born with severe medical problems and it is unknown whether the West Nile infection contributed to these problems or was coincidental.
Pregnant women, like everyone else, should focus on reducing their exposure by avoiding mosquitoes, wearing long sleeves and pants when outside and wearing repellants containing DEET.
What about breastfeeding?
Because the health benefits of breastfeeding are well established, and the risk for WNV transmission through breastfeeding is unknown, no change in breastfeeding habits is recommended. Lactating women who are ill or are having difficulty breastfeeding for any reason, as always, are advised to consult their physicians.
Can women who are pregnant or breast-feeding use insect repellent with DEET?
Yes. Insect repellents help protect people from mosquito bites that may carry potentially serious viruses such as West Nile virus, while allowing them to continue to play and work outdoors. There are no reported side-effects from the use of repellents containing DEET in pregnant or breast-feeding women. Other ways to limit exposure to mosquitoes include limiting time outside especially during dawn and dusk, and wearing long sleeves and pants.
Should I avoid donating blood or getting blood transfusions or organ transplants?
No. Donating blood is safe, and we encourage blood donation now and in the future. Although persons needing blood transfusions or organ transplants should be aware of the risk for WNV infection, the benefits of receiving needed transfusions or transplants outweigh the potential risk for WNV infection.
Can I still donate blood if I have had West Nile virus?
A person who has had West Nile virus can still donate blood after they completely recover. Blood centers take precautions to be sure that donors who have been diagnosed with West Nile virus have fully recovered before donating.
Where do mosquitoes breed? There are about 60 different species of mosquitoes in Louisiana. While most do not transmit West Nile virus, several mosquito species have been found to transmit the virus. Some mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water around the home. Weeds, tall grass, shrubbery and discarded tires also provide an outdoor home for adult mosquitoes. By eliminating places for mosquitoes to breed, we can go a long way to prevent West Nile virus.
How can I reduce the number of mosquitoes around my home and neighborhood? Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Even a small bucket that has stagnant water in it for seven days can become home to up to 1,000 mosquitoes. Here are some easy tips to eliminate standing water:
What about dead birds? Dead birds can be an indication that West Nile virus is present in an area, particularly blue jays, crows, cardinals, grackles, house sparrows, birds of prey, and seagulls.How do I report a dead bird?For tracking purposes, we are asking the public to continue to report all dead birds to their local Parish Health Unit. After hours and on weekends, call the toll-free hotline at 800-256-2748, press 3 to report a dead bird (this may cause some delay in reporting). Dead birds provide an effective early warning system for the detection of West Nile Virus before it is transmitted to humans. How do I collect a dead bird?OPH is collecting blue jays, crows, cardinals, grackles, house sparrows, birds of prey, and seagulls. Due to limited funding the collection and testing of birds is targeted to the types that provide the most reliable information. The CDC advises that there is no danger of contracting WNV from handling intact dead birds. The following procedure is suggested when collecting a specimen and when handling any dead animals:
If submitting for testing, keep the bird in a freezer or cooler with ice. Otherwise, the bird can be disposed of in the regular hospital trash.Where else has West Nile virus been found? Prior to 1999, no West Nile virus cases had been reported in the United States but the virus had a wide distribution in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe and caused occasional epidemics. In 1999, the virus appeared in New York City, and was responsible for an encephalitis outbreak causing 62 cases and 7 deaths.
Between 2000 and 2002, the presence of West Nile expanded from the Northeastern US to the South Central states and westward, appearing in the Pacific coast for the first time in 2002. In 2002, West Nile activity was reported in 44 states and the District of Columbia compared with 27 states and DC in 2001, 12 states and DC in 2000 and 4 states in 1999. (Maps are available on the CDC West Nile Virus page, “Statistics, Surveillance, and Control”)
The number of reported cases was relatively small in 2000 and 2001 (21 in 2000, 66 in 2001) however in 2002, the number of cases increased dramatically and greatly expanded in geographic range (to date, 4071 reported cases with 275 deaths). The 2002 West Nile epidemic was the largest West Nile epidemic ever reported and the largest of any reported arboviral meningoencephalitis in the Western Hemisphere.
In Louisiana, 329 West Nile Fever and meningoencephalitis cases were reported from 41 parishes.
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