A 55-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man–one from Mableton and the other from Acworth– were the first two cases of West Nile virus confirmed this year in Cobb by Cobb & Douglas Public Health in late July. Both were treated and released in late July.
Now the Centers for Disease Control is calling the 2012 outbreak of West Nile cases possibly the largest in U.S. history. The mosquito-borne disease has been around only 13 years and The New York Times reported that there have been 1,118 cases and 41 deaths from the virus reported to the CDC.
Mosquitoes breed in small collections of stagnant water, are common around people’s homes and often bite people indoors. While few mosquitoes may be noticed outdoors, those that are present and biting are likely to be the type that potentially carry the virus.
Many people infected with West Nile may not display symptoms, but others will experience flu-like symptoms, such as: headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands and rashes.
Even one Georgia Patch editor in her early 20s recently had West Nile and never realized it until she was over it.
Dr. Winkler Weinberg, chief of infectious diseases at Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta, said age plays a role in how the virus affects those infected. People 40 and older are more susceptible to severe symptoms, he said.
"You're safe if you're younger, but your risk of death is higher for neuroinvasive West Nile if you're older," he explained.
Despite the CDC's recent announcement, Weinberg says people should not panic about West Nile because the odds of contracting it and dying are still relatively small.
For those concerned about West Nile, Weinberg said, "I'd tell them to look at their risks for cardiovascular disease. Address those first because your risk (of contracting West Nile) is extremely small and there are innumerable risks that are more important to concern themselves with instead."
For example, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a much more common disease in Georgia than West Nile, he explained.
However, there are ways to decrease one's chances of contracting West Nile.
Weinberg advises wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, loose fitting clothing, applying sunscreen first and insect repellent containing DEET second.
Another preventative measure is to empty any containers of standing water from around or near the home. Mosquitoes breed and lay eggs in areas near standing water.
The CDPH advises people to "clean gutters and empty accumulated water in flower pots, old tires and recycling bins."
Dawn and dusk are the times when the risk of contracting West Nile are highest, he said, because it's when mosquitoes are most active.