West Nile Virus
America sees its Worst West Nile Virus Outbreak so far
While West Nile Virus (WNV) and other mosquito-borne illnesses are not uncommon around the world, they have gained a lot more attention in recent years, as the number of cases and the spread of these diseases has grown substantially. North America has been strongly affected by the West Nile outbreak, with Texas taking the worst of it; cases there have doubled within the past two weeks alone.
As opposed to last year's NWV, which manifested with flu-like symptoms, this year's virus seems to have additional neurological effects, making for a more deadly strain for two main reasons. First, without the exhibition of flu-like symptoms, the illness might go unnoticed, allowing it to get further along before treatment is sought. Secondly, an increased occurrence of neurological symptoms means an increased likelihood of meningitis or encephalitis, two of the complications that make West Nile Virus so deadly.
The biggest challenge that Isaac presents is the simple fact that there is now a seemingly endless extent of standing water-- and not just in Louisiana and Mississippi, where the storm hit hardest, but also from Texas to the eastern seaboard, where the associated thunderstorms have struck. Standing water is ground zero for mosquitoes, an ideal breeding center for insects that lay eggs in warm, stagnant waters, which precisely describes the kind of conditions now prevalent in the southeastern United States. While the CDC is helping to clear out standing water in the areas worst hit, other regions are reporting water depth of five feet; moreover, with a primary levee burst in the area with the most water, there is nowhere for that overflow to go.
Such a disaster could mean that the greatest danger of the hurricane season is yet to come, as hundreds of thousands are left unprotected, and increased mosquito breeding adding up to a recipe guaranteed to worsen the West Nile outbreak. For more information about the damage caused by Hurricane Isaac, see http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/days-hurricane-isaac-flooding-outages-remain-louisiana-article-1.1150290.
Halting Mosquito Breeding
Many communities are addressing the mosquito breeding problem by placing mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis) or guppies into freshwater sources, as these types of fish feed on mosquito larvae and thereby can keep a small pool or pond from producing millions of mosquitoes every week. Agitating standing water and skimming the surface will also help to destroy the larvae and eggs, but removing the standing water altogether is the best solution.
While scientists have yet to develop a vaccine for West Nile Virus, researchers at Utah State University have recently made a breakthrough when they discovered the exact part of the brain that WNV affects. With this knowledge, it will be easier to develop treatment options and perhaps a vaccine in the future--not only for West Nile Virus, but potentially for a range of viruses, as the mechanism that causes death is unknown in the vast majority of viral brain diseases.
Whilst the current West Nile outbreak has alarmed a lot of people, there are a number of things that you can do to offset the risks--staying informed is the first step towards keeping this danger at bay!
Irene Gradinger is editor for The West Nile Virus website. For more information about the disease, visit her site at www.west-nile-virus-prevention.com.