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West Nile virus spreading and killing

West Nile virus spreading and killing

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two more people have died from the West Nile virus in Louisiana, and the virus has been detected in animals in two more states, Vermont and Kansas, health officials said Friday.

So far, seven people -- all in Louisiana -- have died this year from West Nile.

The total number of states where the virus has been found in animals -- horses, birds or mosquitoes -- is now 36, while humans have contracted the virus in six states and the District of Columbia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a total of 136 human infection cases: Louisiana (85), Mississippi (34), Texas (12), Illinois (2), Alabama (1), Indiana (1) and the District of Columbia (1).

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The latest victims in Louisiana were a 76-year-old woman in St. Tammany Parish who died August 2 and a 94-year-old woman in Tangipahoa Parish who died August 4, said Dr. Erin Brewer, regional medical director for the Louisiana Office of Public Health.

She said another 85 people in the state have been sickened by the virus, 59 of them with the most serious symptoms: encephalitis or meningitis or both. They are potentially fatal swellings of the brain or of the membranes that cover it. Both conditions can be fatal. Nine of the 59 are hospitalized in intensive care units.

In Indiana, a 46-year-old woman who was hospitalized for four days with flu-like symptoms turned out to be infected with West Nile virus, said Dr. William Dannacher, the health officer for Wabash County. She has since recovered and been discharged, he said.

The positive result, which was confirmed Friday by the CDC, was not surprising, he said. "Twenty-some counties in the state have had birds tested positive for West Nile. There's no question that it's around."

CDC officials said an infected horse had been discovered in Kansas, and the Vermont Department of Health reported an infected bird found there.

At highest risk for becoming infected with the mosquito-borne virus are the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and young children.

Most infections are mild, and symptoms, which don't always appear, include fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with skin rashes. A more severe infection may be marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness and disorientation.

Dr. Lyle Petersen, a West Nile virus expert for the CDC, said the virus causes severe symptoms in one of every 150 people infected.

Most people get either no symptoms, or milder expressions of the disease.

The CDC recommends that people reduce the risk of being bitten and becoming infected by staying indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening; wearing loose long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever they are outdoors; and using insect repellent that contains the chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) -- 20 percent to 30 percent DEET for adults, under 10 percent for children.

The CDC also urges people to get rid of all outdoor standing water, where mosquitoes can breed.

The CDC is also looking into the theory that the hot, dry weather may be a factor in the rise in West Nile activity because it affects mosquito breeding areas. Mosquitos breed in small, dense pools of water. In extremely hot weather, large pools of water get smaller and more dense.


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