October 17th, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Elders still at risk from West Nile virus

by Dorian Martin

I’m looking forward to cold temperatures, but it’s not for the reason you’re thinking. It’s actually so that those lower temperatures can kill the mosquitoes that are carrying West Nile virus.

West Nile virus becomes a bigger health threat in the summer, and the danger continues into fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the greatest risk is for people who are older than 50 or who have medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and organ transplants. That means Dad and other seniors face a higher danger of contracting West Nile virus and developing serious problems.

Risks and effects of West Nile virus

This year’s outbreak has been epic and U.S. health officials warn that the number of cases may continue to rise. The total number of cases thus far in 2012 is the highest in approximately a decade. As of October 9, a total of 168 people had died from this virus. Health officials reported that 4,249 cases involving people have been identified. Of those, 50 percent resulted in neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis), with the remainder being non-neuroinvasive disease.

Approximately 80 percent of people who are infected with West Nile show few symptoms, if any. However, 20 percent develop mild symptoms such as headache, joint pain, fever, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. About one in 150 may develop severe illness with symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms can last several weeks, with lasting neurological effects.

Forty-eight states have reported that they have found the virus in people, birds or mosquitoes, the CDC reports. Nearly 70 percent of the cases were reported in eight states: Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Michigan, Louisiana, Illinois and California. However, Texas accounted for one-third of all these cases.

But relief is in sight. It turns out colder temperatures do affect mosquito breeding cycles and slow down the disease incubation process, according to researchers quoted in the Waco Tribune. The Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station notes that mosquitoes actually function best when the temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but become lethargic at 60 degrees. Furthermore, these pesky insects can’t function in temperatures below 50 degrees.

How to protect elders against West Nile virus

So until the temperatures in your area drop, please make sure that everyone takes the necessary precautions that the CDC recommends, for example:

  1. Use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient when outside.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants when out at dusk and dawn since many mosquitoes are the most active at these times.
  3. Dump any standing water outside that has collected in open containers such as flower pots, buckets and kiddie pools. Also, change the water in pet dishes that are outdoors and replace the water in bird baths weekly.
  4. Install or repair window and door screens.

West Nile is just one of the dangers that elders face in warm temperatures. In another blog post, I wrote about the risks for seniors during high temperatures, and how to keep your loved ones safe.

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