West Nile Virus Heads West

The West Nile Virus used to be a problem for states in the east, but recently the disease has spread to central states. And it is pushing towards the west coast — with over a dozen cases reported in Colorado.

Health officials are gearing up for a severe season of infection. Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay gives an update Friday on the disease.

The West Nile Virus first appeared in New York City in 1999, and it has since slowly spread across the country every summer. In 2002, there were nearly 4,000 reported cases of West Nile Virus human infection and 284 deaths, with the virus reaching 44 states. There were also 23 cases nationwide that West Nile was passed on through a blood transfusion and four cases in which organ recipients contracted the virus.

Senay says as the end of summer draws near and we head into the fall, more reports of the disease should start to surface.

Most people infected with West Nile will not show any symptoms at all. There are some mild symptoms to look out for such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

Senay says the good news about the disease is that less than one percent of people infected suffer severe illnesses, which can include high fever, confusion, muscle weakness and severe headaches. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms if they do get sick and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites.

There is no specific cure for the West Nile Virus. If you start to come down with any of the symptoms for the West Nile Virus, Senay suggests you to contact your doctor and he of she can provide the proper medical care.

Despite last year's outbreak, a recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health shows people are still not doing enough to protect themselves. To avoid being infected with West Nile virus, Senay suggests people to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

Be sure to wear insect repellant containing DEET and long sleeves and pants when you're outdoors. Take extra precaution at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. Senay says to keep an eye on items that can be sitting pools and breeding ground for mosquitoes such as flowerpots, buckets and birdbaths. And, make sure to have screens on windows and doors.

Also, Senay says not to touch a dead bird because it may carry the disease. Call your local health department and they can give instructions on handling the bird.

Fewer than one of 150 people bitten by an infected mosquito become severely ill, but patients can develop meningitis or encephalitis, which can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.