West Nile Virus – The Stage is Set

In 2003, 32 states are already reporting West Nile virus activity, compared to only about 20 states at the same time in 2002. The CDC held a press conference on July 15, 2003, where CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding warned that we need to be prepared for a worse WNV season than last year, when more than 4000 people in the U.S. were infected, and 284 died. 

Noting that it is still too soon to know with certainty how bad this season will be, she declared, “the signs all indicate that there is reason to anticipate a problem, and the best defense still remains the things that people can do to protect themselves from mosquito bites.” These include using long-sleeve clothing to keep the skin covered when outside (especially in the evening and the morning), using insect repellant containing 10 percent DEET for children when appropriate, and emptying standing water near our homes at least once a week — in flower pots, and tires and anywhere else water collects — because that is where mosquitoes breed.

Most people who get bitten by a mosquito with West Nile virus do not become ill. Those who do get sick typically develop a fever, a very severe headache, and often have significant muscle aches and fatigue out of proportion to common mild viral infections. On July 8, 2003 the FDA approved a new test for West Nile virus. Although West Nile virus appears to be in the U.S. to stay, advances like the new test (and hopefully soon new vaccines and treatments) may help to bring it under control.

Published on: July 17, 2003
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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