The current outbreak of West Nile virus in the United States is the worst since the disease was first detected here in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
The 1,118 cases reported nationwide, as of Tuesday, is the most that have ever been reported in the United States through the third week of August, the CDC reported. Forty-one of the victims have died.
The first human case of West Nile virus in the Lehigh Valley was reported last week in a Lehigh County man who was recovering. Statewide, there have been eight confirmed human cases of the disease, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
Despite efforts by DEP and Lehigh County to control the population of mosquitoes, which are a known vector for the disease, 19 of the insects have tested positive for the disease in Bethlehem alone.
Certain mosquito species carry the West Nile virus, which can cause humans to contract West Nile encephalitis, an infection that can result in an inflammation of the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all residents in areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of contracting West Nile encephalitis.
Six birds have also tested positive for the virus in Lehigh and Northampton counties. One veterinary case – of a horse or another domesticated animal – has also been reported in Northampton County.
There are several precautions anyone can take to minimize mosquito breeding areas and reduce their own risk of contracting the disease:
- Dispose of cans, buckets, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar containers that hold water.
- Properly dispose of discarded tires that can collect water. Stagnant water is where most mosquitoes breed.
- Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers.
- Have clogged roof gutters cleaned every year, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug drains.
- Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use.
- Turn over wheelbarrows and don’t let water stagnate in birdbaths.
- Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools not in use and remove any water that may collect on pool covers.
- Make sure screens fit tightly over doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out of homes.
- Consider wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors, particularly when mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, or in areas known for having large numbers of mosquitoes.
- When possible, reduce outdoor exposure at dawn and dusk during peak mosquito periods, usually April through October.
- Use insect repellants according to the manufacturer’s instructions. An effective repellant will contain DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil. Consult with a pediatrician or family physician for questions about the use of repellant on children, as repellant is not recommended for children under the age of 2 months.