Large West Nile Outbreak Hits U.S. CDC Says It Is One of Worst in Country's History

By Stobbe, Mike | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Large West Nile Outbreak Hits U.S. CDC Says It Is One of Worst in Country's History


Stobbe, Mike, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


ATLANTA -- The current West Nile outbreak is one of the largest ever in the United States, with four times the usual number of cases for this time of year, federal health officials said Wednesday.

It's still too early to say how bad the year will end up because most infections are reported in August and September. But never before have so many illnesses been reported this early, said Lyle Petersen, of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"We're in the midst of one of the largest West Nile outbreaks ever seen in the United States," said Dr. Petersen, who oversees the CDC's mosquito-borne illness programs.

So far, 1,118 illnesses have been reported, about half of them in Texas. In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid- August. There have also been 41 deaths this year, the CDC said. And cases seem to be accelerating: about 400 of the cases were reported in just the last week.

Experts think the mild winter, early spring and very hot summer helped stimulate mosquito breeding and the spread of the virus. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from birds they bite and then pass it on to people.

CDC officials are also looking into the possibility that the virus mutated but so far have no information showing that happened, Dr. Petersen said.

West Nile virus was first diagnosed in Uganda in 1937, but no cases were reported in the United States until 1999 in New York. The virus gradually spread across the country. It peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000, and deaths surpassed 260. Last year was mild, with fewer than 700 cases.

Only about 1 in 5 infected people get sick. …

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