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WASHINGTON, D.C. As warmer weather encourages outdoor activities, more U.S. residents will be exposed to the mosquitoes that transmit the West Nile Virus. Families and individuals in areas that have a history of West Nile Virus infections should be extra vigilant in defending themselves against it, advises Jeanne Pfeiffer, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).
To date, the majority of reported cases have been mild, with symptoms that include fever, head and body aches, along with skin rashes and swollen lymph nodes. Severe infections can begin with high fever, neck stiffness, muscle weakness and progress to convulsions, paralysis, coma and rarely, death. The elderly and very young individuals with weakened immune systems are most at risk of experiencing these severe infections.
APIC recommends that individuals take four simple precautionary measures to reduce the risk of infection:
-- Apply insect repellents according to manufacturers instruction to both skin and clothing to reduce the risk of mosquito bites. State health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly urge individuals to use a repellent containing DEET.
-- Avoid or prevent pooling of stagnant water such as empty containers, toys, playground equipment, etc., which creates an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes
-- When possible, wear long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or DEET will give extra protection. Don't apply repellents containing permethrin directly to skin. Do not spray repellent containing DEET on the skin under your clothing. Do not depend on Vitamin B or ultrasonic electrocution devices, as they are NOT effective in preventing mosquito bites.
-- Avoid outdoor exposure at dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
Fatality rates range from 3 percent to 15 percent and are highest among individuals 50 years of age and older. According to the latest data from the CDC, there have already been 78 reported cases in 2004, with many more weeks of summer weather ahead.
West Nile Virus is not a cause for general alarm, but neither is it insignificant, Pfeiffer observed. People of all ages should be instructed that by taking very basic preventive measures, the risk of infection can be greatly reduced.
For more information on the West Nile virus, visit the CDCs Web site at www.cdc.gov/westnile or http://healthyamericans.org/reports/wnv/wnv2004.pdf .
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) is a nonprofit professional association comprised of more than 10,000 members whose responsibility is the prevention and control of infections and related adverse outcomes in patients and healthcare workers.