DETROIT (WWJ) - Health officials say 2012 was the worst year for West Nile Virus infections in Michigan since 2003.
According to the Centers of Disease Control, 202 cases of West Nile Virus were reported in Michigan last year, including 17 deaths. That's up significantly from 2011, when there were only 34 documented cases of West Nile Virus in Michigan, and in 2010 when there were 29 reported cases.
Of last year's infections, 41 percent (84 cases) occurred in Wayne County, 20 percent (41 cases) occurred in Kent County, 14 percent (28 cases) occurred in Macomb County and 11 percent (23 cases) occurred in Oakland County. The remaining cases were scattered in counties throughout the state.
Of the fatal cases, six were in Detroit, four were in Wayne County, three were in Macomb County, two were in Kent County, one was in Ogemaw County and the other was in Washtenaw County.
West Nile Virus is a potentially serious illness that is spread by infected mosquitoes. State health officials say less than one percent of people who contract the virus actually get sick, but complications from the disease can be debilitating -- especially for the elderly, very young and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include fever, nausea, disorientation, dizziness and drowsiness.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile Virus infections. In mild cases, people experience symptoms such as fever and aches that pass on their own, although even healthy people have become sick for several weeks. In more severe cases, people usually need to go to the hospital where they can receive supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care.
The CDC says a total of 5,674 cases of West Nile Virus in people were reported nationwide, including 286 deaths. Authorities say the number of deaths last year is the highest since cases of the West Nile Virus were first detected in the United States in 1999.
In 2012, 62 percent of all reported West Nile Virus cases were concentrated in California, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas, according to CDC data. Texas reported 33 percent of all reported cases last year.
Last summer's outbreak likely resulted from many factors, including higher-than-normal temperatures that influenced mosquito and bird abundance, the replication of the virus in its host mosquitoes, and interactions of birds and mosquitoes in hard-hit areas, according to the CDC.
CDC officials say last year's large outbreak is a reminder that it's important for citizens to protect themselves from the West Nile Virus, especially as mosquitoes become more active. The best way to prevent West Nile Virus is to avoid mosquito bites:
•Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Use repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and para-menthane-diol (PMD) because these repellents provide longer-lasting protection than other products. Always follow the instructions on the label.
•Wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when many mosquitoes are most active.
•Repair or install screens on windows and doors. Use air conditioning, if you have it.
•Help reduce the numbers of mosquitoes around your home. Empty standing water from items such as gutters, flowerpots, buckets, and kiddie pools. Change birdbaths weekly.
For more information on West Nile Virus, visit www.cdc.gov.
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