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Cases of West Nile Virus reach record highs in US states where mosquitoes thrive amid climate change

Dozens of US states are reporting a spike in cases of West Nile virus.

Cases have been reported in every state except Hawaii, with deaths confirmed in 29 states including California, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

Several states, such as Maryland and Texas, are reporting an unusually large number of illnesses in 2018.

And in some states, like Massachusetts and Virginia, the number of cases is record-breaking. 

The virus can potentially be deadly, triggering a fever that kills one in 150 people due to compilations.

Health experts say both warming temperatures and flooding due to climate change are increasing the risk of the virus becoming even more prevalent.

Cases of West Nile virus been reported in every single state aside from Hawaii with a record-breaking number of cases in Massachusetts and Virginia (file image)

Several states have seen an upswing in cases, such as Maryland, where 38 people have been infected with West Nile. This is a seven-fold increase from five cases in 2017.

The state has seen one of its rainiest summers ever, leading to more pools of standing water and, therefore, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

Thirty-eight people have also been infected in Virginia, and officials say it’s the highest number of cases every recorded in the state.

Virginia has also experienced a wetter summer than normal, with temperatures an average of 10 degrees hotter as well.  

A record-breaking number of illnesses have also been reported in Massachusetts, where 44 residents have been infected this year – a drastic increase from the state’s six cases in 2017. 

‘The hot, humid weather in Massachusetts combined with frequent heavy rainfall has provided perfect conditions for mosquito species carrying West Nile virus to breed,’ said the state’s public health commissioner Monica Bharel. 

West Nile virus is a disease that people contract when the are bitten by mosquitoes, which were themselves infected after feeding on birds carrying the virus.

Cases generally tend to spike during the summer and fall months, between June and September, when mosquito activity is the most common.

Although most people don’t develop symptoms, approximately 20 percent of those infected will develop an infection known as West Nile Fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms include severe headaches, fever, vomiting and diarrhea, and the CDC recommends to seek immediate medical attention.

Although there is no vaccine to protect against West Nile virus, over-the-counter pain medication, such as Advil or Tylenol, can help treat symptoms such as fever. 

The illness can sometimes be fatal. About one out of 150 infected people die from complications of the virus.

It is unknown what exactly is driving the increase in cases, but some experts say that it could be due to climate change.

Mosquitoes that carry the virus tend to multiply when there is standing water and warm temperatures, both of which are a result of climate change.

Kristy Murray, a vice-chair of research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told The Guardian that Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 20 trillion gallons of water in Houston last year, is a prime example.

‘We have this worrisome trend where we are seeing bigger and bigger increases in this virus,’ she told the newspaper.

‘We are seeing a lot of activity in Houston and the longer trend is making me nervous.’

However, a spokeswoman for the CDC told The Guardian, ‘it remains unclear exactly how climate change may affect the distribution and timing of existing infectious disease’.

Last year, there were 146 deaths out of the 2,097 cases that were reported across the US, according to the Centers

In the CDC’s most recent update on October 16, the agency stated 1,976 people had been infected with the virus this year and that 86 people had died. 

To protect yourself from the disease, experts recommend wearing insect repellent, avoid going outside between dawn and dusk – which are peak mosquito feeding times – and to wear loose clothing.

Health departments have also encouraged residents to remove items from the outside of their home that contain water – such as buckets or pet dishes – because it can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  


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