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West Nile outbreak could be worst in U.S. history

By Mike Baldyga 

American College of Emergency Physicians

Special to The SUN

With the West Nile Virus outbreak set to be the worst in U.S. history, the nation’s emergency physicians urge the public to take precautions now to protect from being infected.

 “Right now, the CDC is seeing cases in practically every state in the country,” said Dr. David Seaberg, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “This is a problem that affects everyone, everywhere.  But simple steps can stand in the way of a person being infected with West Nile.”

 West Nile Virus, a disease spread by mosquitos, causes only mild, flu-like symptoms in 20 percent of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most people (about four out of five) who are infected show no symptoms at all. But, in rare cases, some will develop severe symptoms that can include high fever, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, vision loss, along with several others. It can cause permanent neurological damage and even death. 

 So far in 2012, 47 states have reported more than 1,100 West Nile cases, including 41 deaths, according to the CDC, with 75 percent of the cases reported in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma. 

 The easiest and most effective way to avoid West Nile is to prevent mosquito bites. 

• When you are outside, use insect repellent that contains an EPA-registered active ingredient, such as DEET. Never use DEET on infants under 2 months old. Young children should not apply DEET on themselves, and do not apply to their hand, eye or mouth areas or on any wounds. Use caution and use lower concentrations of DEET (such as 10 percent) especially on young children. 

• Mosquitos are most active when it is darker such as during dawn or dusk. Wear long sleeves and pants during that time or consider staying indoors during those hours.

• Put screens on any windows or sliding doors to keep mosquitos out.

• Get rid of standing water near your house or in your lawn, such as puddles, flower pots, buckets, barrels and child wading pools when they’re not in use. These are mosquito breeding sites. Keep fountain waters flowing if possible and maintain clean gutters around your property.

• Don’t handle dead birds. Mosquitos become infected when they feed on infected birds. Contact your local health department for instructions on reporting and disposing of the body. 

“Always take precautions and go to your doctor or the nearest emergency department to get checked out if you feel you have some of the symptoms associated with West Nile,” said Seaberg. “It’s always better to be cautious.”

 ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies. 

This story was posted on September 13, 2012.