West Nile Virus Cases Continue To Rise, More Deaths
September 18, 2012

West Nile Virus Cases Continue To Rise, More Deaths

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

As of last week, there have been more than 2,636 cases of West Nile virus (WNV) with 118 deaths reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus has also sickened more than 30,000 people since first showing up in the US in 1999.

Dr. Cedric Spak, an expert in infectious diseases at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas has reported that nearly 100 WNV victims have been treated at Baylor this year, and said some of his own patients have died from the disease.

Spak told ABC News´ in an interview that he has few answers for those who contract the disease. “We are still unable to explain why some people get better, and others do not.”

The CDC announced in August that this year´s WNV outbreak was the largest ever seen in the US, and now it looks like it may also be the deadliest.

Since there is no cure and no vaccine for WNV, the best hope for slowing the progress of the outbreak may come from Fort Collins, Colorado-based CDC Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. Researchers have been tirelessly working to find a way to combat the deadly disease and stop its ruthless attack on humans and animals alike.

WNV recently killed a Hope, Arkansas police sergeant who battled the illness for 18 days before succumbing to its grasp.

Scientists at Fort Collins have been collecting and sorting mosquitoes by species and sex (only the female bites). They grind the bugs up and test them for the virus, which can indicate how fast the virus is spreading, and where pesticides should be used and whether or not they are working.

Pesticides are highly effective at killing mosquitoes when used appropriately. But some people fear the chemicals do more harm than good, especially when they are sprayed over cities, such as has been done in Dallas.

However, Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC´s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, maintains that the spraying is safe.

“The EPA has looked at all of this, and has deemed these pesticides as being safe,” Petersen told ABC. “We found no increased respiratory illness, or any other kind of illness“¦That's not unexpected, because the amount of pesticides used is often less than one ounce per acre. It's minuscule.”

The fight against WNV has been a personal one for Petersen, who himself was victimized by the disease a few years ago.

“I went out one day at dusk, no repellant, to get the mail. Three days later both my friend and I got West Nile,” he said. “I mean, I'm a long distance runner and I could barely walk up the stairs for three months. It was a miserable experience.”

While the virus can be deadly, about 80 percent of those infected will never know it and won´t even get sick. About 1 in 150 will come down with the most severe form of WNV, as it attacks the nervous system. The hardest hit victims are left with neurological damage that can last a lifetime.

With so few answers to the problem, Petersen warns that WNV is here to stay. “There's no way to get rid of it at this point. People need to realize they're at risk, and I'm a good example of that,” he said.