What Would Mayberry Do?

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West Nile Virus in Kentucky

by Ellie Munson

It’s not uncommon this semester to see the marching band, cross country runners or the football players spray themselves with bug spray before practices.  The unusual wet and warm weather has breathed life into the mosquito population.  And unfortunately, a small percentage of mosquitoes carry the West Nile Virus (WNV).  Since last spring there have been five documented cases of West Nile virus in our state with the most recent being in nearby Laurel County.

What You Should Know About WNV:  WNV is a mosquito-born illness originating from birds in Uganda, Africa that has found its way to the United States.  Since the first reported case in 1999, the disease has been sweeping across the United States at an rate increasing annually during the spring, summer and fall seasons.  The U.S. National Library of Medicine said WNV is most potent in the fall, with the number of people affected increases in the months of August and September.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 2012 has been a record year for reported WNV cases coming in at 4,531 to date.  Nearby Wayne County reported a case in August.

One in 150 people infected will develop serious symptoms which may include:  high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.  Milder symptoms occur in about 20% of those affected and may include: fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, body aches, and sometimes swollen glands or a rash. But most people, about 4%, never develop any symptoms.  The elderly seem to be at most risk.  Symptoms usually develop between three and fourteen days of being bitten.

According to our school nurse, Darlene Pickens, students and spectators at events should spray their exposed areas with a repellent containing DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide).

“If you’re going to be out of an evening, I recommend you spray yourself from head to toe.  West Nile is nothing to mess with.  It’s a virus so, you can’t treat it with an antibiotic,” said Nurse Pickens.  In other words, once patients contract WNV, hospitals can only provide monitoring care and try to relieve symptoms.

The type of mosquito which carries the virus, the Culex Pipiens, is most common in urban and suburban areas and carries Encephalitis as well as WNV.  Birds tend to be the primary target, but we can all attest to the fact that they seem to be indiscriminate when it comes to blood.

Student concerns range from disinterest to concern.  Junior, Tony Troutman said, “I don’t see what the big deal is, most people who ever get it are like in their eighties.”

Jennifer Wilson, Senior, seemed more concerned.  “I suppose I know enough to be dangerous, or worried.  I don’t know that I’ve really been worried enough to use spray though when I’m out.  Besides, who wants to spell like bug spray?”

Attitudes such as Tony’s and Jennifer’s are not uncommon in our school or in our community.  It only takes getting sick once, or knowing someone who suffered the symptoms of WNV before we take it seriously.  The CDC has a wealth of information.  They also debunk the five myths of WNV.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers believe WNV actually originates with birds.  It is spread from birds carrying the virus to humans through mosquitoes.

When your mother told you not to pick up that dead bird when you were little and you asked why, her answer was, “Because it’s filthy dirty and it has germs.”  Well, you know what?  She was right.

The CDC advises not to handle a dead bird with your bare hands if you find one.  Instead, you can contact the local health department if you feel inclined to remove it or dispose of it.

For more information and images on the WNV epidemic, go to http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10013498.html?tag=contentMain;contentBody

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