Truckin' through Louisiana? Get out your skeeter spray

| Wednesday, July 31, 2002

West Nile virus is spreading so quickly health officials believe it will reach California this year or next. The virus has popped up in 33 states, as far west as South Dakota and nobody knows how bad the mosquito-borne illness will get. A recent outbreak in Louisiana has struck 32 people a month earlier than West Nile has ever struck in this country, according to published reports.

CDC warns that the virus could be a concern to anyone who works in an outdoor environment. It is spread by mosquitoes that bite infected birds and then spread it to humans. "Yet it's fairly easy to prevent," says Dr. Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "You should be concerned enough about it to do something but not have it change your whole lifestyle."

Guidelines from the CDC include spraying on DEET-containing mosquito repellent when you go outdoors. Stay away from standing water where mosquitoes can breed and try to stay indoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

Most victims get a flu-like illness, with fever, headache and muscle pains that last two or three days. But the disease can cause a potentially fatal brain inflammation that kills. Anyone who suffers a high fever, confusion, severe headache, stiff neck or sudden muscle weakness should see a doctor. There is a horse vaccine but not a human one, nor is there any anti-viral treatment.

"So as West Nile moves across the country, there's no real predicting how big a threat it will pose each year," says Petersen. "Abroad, West Nile hides for years between periodic epidemics -- a pattern likely here, too." says Petersen.

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