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West Nile Virus: Questions and Answers

How to Stay Safe This Summer as West Nile Spreads

Are there any areas in the U.S. that seem more active now, or is West Nile dispersed nationwide? Where is it likely to spread to next?

It's more dispersed nationwide. There has been some type of activity identified in 35 states in the continental U.S., and I believe there have been 16 states that have reported human infection or disease.

It's certainly more widespread, but so far, the majority of cases that have been reported, at least as of earlier this week, have been from those South-Central states. Clearly, we will start to see more cases from other areas over the next week or so.

West Nile virus is now endemic through the United States, and we can't really predict where it's going to occur.

In the past few years, the highest incidence of disease has been in the upper-mountain and Rocky Mountain states, and those include Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas, and those areas. But those are also areas that have less population, so they have higher incidence of disease, but not as many numbers of cases. The highest numbers of cases in the last few years have been from California, parts of Arizona, parts of New York, Texas, and Louisiana.

Are there any areas that people should avoid?

No, we never really recommend people avoid any particular location. Even when West Nile virus is at its peak, the risk to any given individual is relatively low, but we do suggest that people be aware of West Nile virus and its activity in where they live or where they're visiting, and that they take action to protect themselves and their family.

What protections do consumers need to take? Who is most likely to get West Nile in areas that are active right now?

The best way to prevent West Nile virus disease is to avoid mosquito bites, and you do that by using insect repellents when you go outdoors.

Also, when possible:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants, especially during dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • At your home, it's good to install or repair screens on your windows and doors.
  • Use air conditioning if you have it.
  • Reduce mosquito breeding sites around your home by emptying items that have standing water, like flower pots, buckets, or kiddie pools.

Anyone who lives in an area where the virus is circulating can get infected. The risk of infection is in general higher for people who work outside or participate in lots of outdoor activities, especially during dawn and dusk, when the activity is greatest, because they're just more likely to be exposed to mosquitos.

Once somebody is infected, there are some people who have greater risk for getting diseased with West Nile virus, and those are people who are older adults, over 50 or 60 years of age, and those with certain medical conditions, like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and organ transplant recipients.

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