West Nile virus is spreading faster than it has in previous summers.
The number of cases now nears 700, with nearly 30 deaths reported. 14-year old Jordan Connor of Texas is home from the hospital, recovering from a severe West Nile infection that led to encephalitis — inflammation of the brain. She’s young and strong enough to recover.
Others, especially elderly patients, have not been as lucky. Betty West’s husband of 65 years was the first one in North Carolina to die of the mosquito-borne disease this season.
“He had gotten so weak, we could barely get him out of the house,” she says. Climate experts say the mild winter and rainy spring became the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, who get the virus from birds.Although mosquitoes thrive on standing water, the drought has added to the problem.
“With fewer water sources, mosquitoes and birds find themselves closer together,” explains Vanderbilt University’s Dr. William Schaffner. So it’s been easier for mosquitoes to get infected, then transmit the virus to people. Experts recommend using insect repellent outdoors, draining areas of standing water, and wearing long sleeves and pants when outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. Most West Nile victims have no symptoms and recover quickly.