Health officials in South Dakota announced yesterday that the state has confirmed its first West Nile virus case of 2017.
No details were offered about the victim other than that he or she lives in Davison County and is in his/her sixties. The patient’s age is significant because people over the age of 50 are considered to be at high risk for complications from the virus.
As Dr. Lon Kightlinger said in the Department of Health press release, most people won’t even know they’ve been infected with West Nile but the 20% or so who become ill can be very much so: “While typical symptoms include fever, headache, body aches and rash, in severe cases WNV can invade the brain and spinal cord leading to stiff neck, confusion, paralysis, coma and even death.” Kightlinger is South Dakota Department of Health’s state epidemiologist.
This case serves as a good reminder of the importance of mosquito repellent. South Dakota sees what Kightlinger characterizes as a “disproportionately high” number of West Nile cases. Since it was first confirmed in the state 15 years ago, West Nile has sickened more than 2300 people, sending 745 of those to the hospital. To date, 38 people in South Dakota have died from West Nile complications.
Nationwide, West Nile is potentially present in 48 states. Last year along, the virus sickened more than 2000 people in 47 states. More than half of those cases ultimately resulted in neuroinvasive complications like inflammation of the brain or spinal cord.
Health experts say that the best way to prevent West Nile infection is to avoid mosquito bites. While there have been a smattering of cases of newborns apparently becoming infected before birth and a few cases linked to blood transfusions and organ donations, the vast majority of West Nile sufferers are infected by mosquitoes.
Using an EPA-registered repellent is currently the preferred method of self-protection.
Image courtesy CDC’s Mosquito Bite Prevention Handout.