West Nile virus cases set nationwide record, officials say

A record number of people have become infected with mosquito-borne West Nile virus, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases nationwide and nearly 100 deaths, health officials said Wednesday.

Richmond County Mosquito Control is getting between 50 and 60 complaint calls a day, about twice what it can respond to, and is already nearly a week behind, operations manager Fred Koehle said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,993 confirmed cases and 87 deaths, but that did not include updated numbers from the hardest-hit state, Texas, which would push it to 2,118 cases and 92 deaths nationwide. Either way, it would be the most cases by the first week of September than any previous year, said Dr. Larry Petersen, the director of the Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases at CDC.

With 1,013 of the confirmed cases and 40 of the deaths, “2012 is now officially our worst year in the state of Texas,” said Dr. David L. Lakey, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Georgia has had 22 cases, including one each in Richmond and Columbia counties, and three deaths; South Carolina has had eight cases and no deaths, according to CDC data.

In Augusta, mosquito control is running five or six nights a week to try to catch up and had cleared complaints received through Aug. 29 by Wednesday, Koehle said. The trucks are spraying in response to complaints, and workers are trying to advise homeowners how to eliminate common mosquito breeding areas, he said. A big culprit is gutters.

“People aren’t cleaning them out, and they don’t hang right so they don’t drain,” Koehle said.

All of the extra spraying and maintenance on the trucks could create a problem for mosquito control’s $145,000 annual budget, he said.

Nationwide, Petersen said, the hope is the epidemic peaked in mid- to late August, but the number of cases will likely increase until October because of a lag in reporting.

It is unclear what led to the outbreak this year because there is “a very complex ecology to the transmission of these viruses in nature,” Petersen said. The record heat that many areas saw this summer might be a factor because mosquitoes carry higher levels of virus at hotter temperatures, which could make them more infectious, he said.

“We think the temperature may be influencing this year’s outbreak,” Petersen said.

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