HEALTH BEAT

HEALTH BEAT
BY MARY JANE DITTMAR
Senior Associate Editor
FIRE ENGINEERING

WEST NILE VIRUS

Yet another health hazard is threatening the U. S. population and first responders, the West Nile virus. It was first was identified in this country in 1999 in New York City, when seven people died from it and more than 60 became seriously ill.

Now, the virus has been reported in many more states. According to an August 24th MSNBC report, U.S. deaths from the virus may be as high as 20 this summer. More than 370 human cases reportedly have been confirmed in the United States this year; nearly 80 of these are in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

The four cases most recently reported-in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois–had not yet been confirmed. The virus has been detected in 40 states. Health officials expect the virus to continue to spread westward.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most significant outbreak since 1999 has occurred in Louisiana, where, as of August 6, five people have died and 71 residents had been confirmed to have the disease, according to an MSNBC.com news.

The virus, found in birds, is transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms begin three to 15 days after infection. The most common symptoms are a mild fever, body aches, and sometimes a rash and swollen lymph glands. One in five people infected do not manifest any signs of the illness; however, the chronically ill and individuals with weak immune systems may develop serious complications such as meningitis and encephalitis and die.

There is no specific anti-viral treatment for West Nile virus. Prevention appears to be the best “medicine.” Following are some recommendations by the CDC. You may not only want to follow them for your own personal protection and the protection of those in your household and work environment, but your department may want to address them in community education programs as well.

  • Avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors if possible during the early morning and early evening hours. If outdoors, wear long, loose clothing. Spray clothing and exposed skin with an insecticide that contains a maximum concentration of DEET. Use 10 percent DEET concentration for children.
  • Since mosquitoes breed in or near water, eliminate breeding sites around your home and fire station: Clean and drain blocked rain gutters, drain ditch containers that could collect water, clear puddles in a pool cover. The water-collection area need not be large to pose a health threat from the mosquitoes. They can breed in an area as small as a bottle cap and even in children’s toys.
  • Report any dead birds found to your state health department. Dead birds may be an early warning signal that the virus is present.

State officials have been spraying pesticides in those areas where mosquitoes are likely to breed.
Despite these statistics, federal health officials say that even though the West Nile Virus represents an “evolving” health problem, it should not be considered a crisis. For more information, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov, or call 888-246-2675.

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