By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
The Kid's Doctor
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
Summer has arrived and the bugs are already coming out in full force, including mosquitoes. In Texas, where temperatures are higher than in many areas, I'm already seeing lots of mosquito bites. Parents are more anxious than usual due to the risk of West Nile Virus.
West Nile Virus (WNV) was first detected in the U.S. in 1999, and 2012 saw the second worst outbreak (the worst came in 2003). WNV disease is a seasonal illness, typically seen during summer and early fall, when mosquito infestation reaches its peak.
In 2012, a total of 5,674 cases of West Nile Virus were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 286 deaths. WNV has been reported in all 48 contiguous states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Seventy-five percent of human West Nile cases were reported from just 10 states, with Texas having the highest number (1,868 cases and 89 deaths).
So, what do you need to know? First of all, WNV, as the name states, is a virus, which means there is no antibiotic to treat the infection. Secondly, about 80 people (or 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will never show any symptoms of illness. Up to 20 percent of those infected will display symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, or vomiting, and some may also develop swollen lymph nodes and a rash.
Such symptoms mimic many other viral illnesses, so trying to decide if your child, who has a fever and "the feel bads" has West Nile or an enterovirus (like coxsackie) or and adenoviral infection is really not important.
What do you do for all of these viral infections but treat the symptoms, right? Wait for a few days to see how your child is doing, treat the fever, keep the child comfortable and hydrated, and the illness will typically resolve and be forgotten as another nuisance viral illness.
Only about 1 in 150 people infected with West Nile will develop severe illness with neurological problems, including seizures, meningitis and encephalitis. These are the people most likely to require medical care, which could include hospitalization and life support. This is most often seen in older people and in people with other medical problems.
The best ways to do is to protect yourself from mosquito bites are to use bug spray, keep windows and doors closed, drain standing water outside and avoiding peak exposure during the early morning and evening hours. When you can, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks. For infants, buy some mosquito netting to cover strollers.
Lastly, don't panic. Some parents are already telling me they aren't letting their children go outside. We have a long summer ahead and everyone needs fresh air and exercise.
I'll talk more about West Nile as summer deepens, although my zipcode in Texas is already reporting WNV-positive mosquitoes!
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. "The Kid's Doctor" TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)
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