Fifteen years ago, there was no such thing as West Nile virus in the United States. Regrettably, that was soon to change.
The first case of the virus was reported in North America in 1999. Since then, more than 37,000 cases and about 1,500 deaths have been recorded because of the virus.
Those statistics underscore the importance of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s efforts to track the virus. The peak year in the state was 2003, with 73 cases. Between then and 2011, the cases were greatly diminished. But for some reason, 2012 was a rebound year for the virus, with 47 cases in Maryland and more than 5,600 cases nationwide.
“The number of West Nile cases we will see in any given year is unpredictable, so we encourage everyone to take some simple actions to avoid mosquito bites,” said Dr. Katherine Feldman, state public health veterinarian at DHMH.
Measures people can take to protect themselves include:
• Avoid areas of high mosquito activity.
• Avoid unnecessary outdoor activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
• Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats when concerned about mosquito exposure.
• Use an EPA-registered insect repellent according to package directions.
Most individuals infected with the virus will not have any symptoms. People that do develop illness will usually have any combination of fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms generally appear three to 15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito. Less than 1 percent of people exposed to the virus will develop more severe infections with symptoms such as headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. In rare instances, the virus can be fatal. People over 50 years of age have the highest risk of developing more severe disease.
It used to be a mosquito bite was little more than an itchy annoyance. Now, those bites can turn into a major medical problem, or worse.