Last year, Cuyahoga County had 28 cases of West Nile - almost a quarter of the 121 cases reported throughout Ohio.
The dry, hot weather in 2012 created more instances of standing water, leading to more breeding areas and maturing mosquitos quicker, contributing to the spike in West Nile cases, said Joe Lynch, mosquito program director for Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
The Cases and Incidence Rates
You can see how counties across the state compare by using the interactive map above, which shows the number of West Nile cases in humans and the infection rate. West Nile – named after the district in Uganda where the virus was first discovered – spread to New York City in 1999, and has been migrating across the United States ever since, reaching Ohio in 2002. Last year was the deadliest year so far for West Nile in the United States, with more than 5,600 "confirmed and probable" cases, and at least 286 related deaths. Cuyahoga County recorded one death in 2012 in Beachwood.
Local predictions for 2013 are very difficult to make. But nationally, "the number of humans with West Nile virus disease continues to rise in the United States," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.
No Vaccine, Little Reporting, But a High Cost
While there is a West Nile vaccine for horses, there isn't one for humans, according to Purdue University Professor Richard Kuhn. Furthering the problem is the fact that cases of West Nile often go unreported.
“It's always underreported because if someone has a mild case they might not report it; they might think it’s a cold,” said Judith M. Lavelle, Health Communications Specialist at the CDC.
There is currently no comprehensive treatment for someone infected by West Nile, which makes severe diagnoses all the more frightening. Patch spoke to one Texas man who survived a West Nile infection in 2006, and has dedicated himself to educating the public about the potentially debilitating disease.
“I was told point blank that I would never walk again - to forget it,” said Donnie Manry, of the Bryan County Police Department in Texas. “It was devastating.”
Manry, who was 43 at the time, said that within five days of being stung, encephalitis and meningitis left him paralyzed. Through rehabilitation, Manry was able to regain control of his body again, and now uses a cane to walk.
From Birds to Bugs to Humans
West Nile has also been detected in bird populations, notably in Central Michigan. “Certain types of birds serve as a reservoir for West Nile Virus,” Kuhn said. An infected bird can pass the virus along to an uninfected mosquito when bitten. Birds that contract the virus are crows and blue jays. That’s why Wisconsin has launched a hotline for people to report dead birds in the area.
Many states have begun testing mosquitoes for West Nile, with Pennsylvania, Illinois and California all reporting positive detection in certain counties. After the virus was detected in California, LA County began overnight aerial spraying to stop the spread. Residents are cautioned to remain indoors during the spraying.
Prevention and Symptoms
The CDC recommends using an EPA-certified mosquito repellant if you’re going to be outdoors, and lists some additional prevention tips on their website, including:
- When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors.
- Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors.
- At least once or twice a week, empty water from flower pots, pet food and water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels, and cans. Some communities enforce mosquito control and will also make house calls to get rid of standing water and mosquitoes.
- Serious Symptoms in a Few People. About one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness, including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, and paralysis.
- Milder Symptoms in Some People. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
- No Symptoms in Most People. Approximately 80 percent of people infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.
This story was written by Alex Gronke with local reporting by Patch Intern Alex Alusheff.