Originally created 08/07/02

Prevention key to West Nile epidemic



ATLANTA -- National health officials warned that the West Nile Virus is here to stay and that simple prevention efforts, such as wearing insect repellent, are the best way to manage the epidemic.

CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters Monday that she wasn't surprised human infections have risen since the disease spread south and west from New York, where it was first seen in 1999. The disease has been found in 88 people this year, the CDC said.

Gerberding insisted there is little chance of eliminating the mosquito-borne disease, especially when it spreads to areas with longer summers and warmer water.

Instead, she said, officials should spray for mosquitoes when the virus has been detected, and people should eliminate standing water from their lawns to reduce their risk. Wearing insect repellent and long pants and shirts are also recommended.

"I don't think we want to overstate the situation," she said in a media briefing. "It's been an evolving problem, so therefore there is a certain sense of urgency. But I don't think we need to send the message there's a crisis."

Four people in Louisiana have died this summer of West Nile, a virus that can cause flu-like symptoms and sometimes potentially fatal swelling of the brain. Most of the victims have been older people or those with weak immune systems.

Officials in Arkansas said they have found the state's first known case of the virus in a person and sent a sample to the CDC Monday for confirmation. The man in Union County, near the Louisiana state line, was expected to recover.

The virus has been detected in birds and people in 34 states and Washington. Health officials expect it will continue spreading west.

Dr. Jim Hughes, director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Disease, said West Nile is showing up earlier in the summer as it moves to warmer climates.

"The disease will not necessarily behave the same in all geographic areas," he said.

Gerberding also said people shouldn't worry that pesticides being used to kill mosquitoes pose a health threat.

"There are very, very few if any health consequences," she said. "Basically they're safe, and the risks they present are outweighed by the benefits of reducing the mosquito population."

On the Net:

http://www.cdc.gov