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West Nile Cases on the Decline

No Cases Reported in Missouri so Far this Year
Photo Credit: NPR

This year, as of July 16, 23 cases of West Nile virus had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control.  Three people had died from the illness.  The highest numbers were in Mississippi (with six) and Nevada (with five).

That’s compared to last year when there were 5,674 cases and 286 deaths.

And in Missouri, no cases have been reported so far this year.  2012 saw 20 cases of West Nile and three deaths.

Greene County hasn’t had a case of West Nile reported since the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 when one case was seen each year.

West Nile is transmitted to humans when they’re bit by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds.

Most people who have the virus are asymptomatic.  A small number develops mild symptoms that include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands.  Less than one percent of those who are infected develop a more serious illness that includes meningitis or encephalitis and that can lead to death.

Kendra Findley, administrator of community health and epidemiology with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, says the concern in our area is fairly low.

But she says prevention is still important, especially since the same methods used to protect against West Nile can also protect against tick-borne illnesses such as ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

She’s not sure why Greene County has had so few cases, but she has one theory.

"It could be that we just don't have a big mosquito population in comparison to a state like Texas or California's seeing an increase in cases.  Maybe our mosquito populations are lower.  And then, you know there's a small percentage of the mosquito population that is estimated to carry West Nile," she said.

Findley says it’s pretty simple to protect yourself from insect-borne diseases.  First, look at your environment and get rid of any standing water.

"So, we're talking about if you have bird baths or some area within your yard or around your yard that tends to accumulate water.  You want to get rid of that, so if it's extra planting pots or vessels in the yard, turn those over so they can't collect water.  If you have a bird bath, be sure to replace that water on a regular basis.  Mosquitoes need standing water to replicate," she said.

If you have outside pets change their water frequently.

Findley says larvicide products can be used for large bodies of water, such as ponds, that will kill mosquito larvae without harming the environment.

Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, she says, so if you have to go outside during those times, use an insect spray containing DEET.

You can protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes by wearing long-sleeved, light colored pants and shirts so you can spot the tick before it attaches.  If it does attach, Findley says to remove it close to the skin so part if it isn’t left behind.

To find out more about protecting yourself from insect-borne diseases, visit cdc.gov.