Feature

Health scare of the week: A West Nile epidemic

The mosquito-borne West Nile virus has infected people in 38 states and appears headed for its worst outbreak in U.S. history.

The mosquito-borne West Nile virus has infected people in 38 states and appears headed for its worst outbreak in U.S. history. Reported cases of the disease—more than 1,100 so far—have “risen dramatically in the last few weeks,” Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells USA Today. Since West Nile typically remains a danger through the end of September, “we expect many more cases to occur.” The virus, which can attack the brain and spinal cord, has killed at least 41 people and left many others with permanent cognitive damage and paralysis. Symptoms include fever, headaches, vomiting, neck stiffness, and disorientation. The epidemic has taken its heaviest toll in Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and especially Texas, where officials are taking emergency measures to wipe out virus-carrying mosquitoes. They’re urging residents to wear bug spray and long-sleeved clothing, rid their neighborhoods of standing water, and avoid going outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. Such precautions, says Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, are now “literally a matter of life or death.”

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