Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer flu often spells West Nile Virus

Dr. Robert Haley, Chief Epidemiologist of the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, recently wrote a short and easily readable summary of the West Nile virus situation for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  Click here to read a free copy of the article.

Based on his medical observations over several years, Dr. Haley concludes that "diagnosis of WNF should be suspected in anyone with unexplained fever from late June through September, the season when other causes of fever are least common. Fever with disorientation, stiff neck, or neurologic deficits suggests WNND."

It's estimated that since its discovery in the U.S. in 1999, over 30,000 Americans have contracted either West Nile fever (WNF) or the most serious form of the disease, West Nile neuroinvasive disease (WNND). While even I may have been tempted a few years ago to dismiss this as an "old person's disease" (older persons with underlying health problems are most likely to die from the virus), at over 50 myself I now fall into the susceptible age group. And I don't feel that old.

It would be a mistake to underestimate this disease. It can even develop in younger people, as a 14 year-old Dallas girl discovered this summer, although this is not common.  Even the milder form of the disease can be debilitating for extended periods of time, with an average recovery time of 60 days in one study.

For PMPs working in residential environments, especially, it's important to take WNV seriously. Higher concentrations of DEET, picaridin and IR-3535 remain the best repellents for outdoor workers due to their longer residual and highly effective repellency for WNV mosquitoes.  For more information and assistance in choosing the right insect repellent for you and your employees, check out the highly useful repellent calculator developed by the National Pesticide Information Center.

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