GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - West Nile virus cases are rising at a troubling rate in Kent County. In the last two weeks, the number of cases has grown from one to 29.
To put those figures in perspective: 10 of those cases were detected among blood donors, who are always checked for the presence of the virus. All of those donors have been contacted and none have symptoms of the disease and, of course, none of that blood ever got used.
In 2002, Kent County had 60 confirmed cases of the disease, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. During the next spike in 2006, there were 13 cases.
Between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases rose from 26 to 29, making this Kent County's second-worst year ever for West Nile virus.
The rest of Michigan is also seeing more cases of West Nile virus -- and at least two people have died after contracting it.
It's a nationwide problem, too, with more than a 1,100 cases reported. The Centers for Disease Control says the country is in the midst of one of the largest outbreaks it has ever seen. Texas has seen the worst of it with more than 500 cases and at least 19 deaths in that state alone.
Kent County Health Department officials expect the numbers to continue to rise and say we may be en route to a record number of cases.
"Especially with the weather forecast, we are hearing about where the weather is supposed to be warmer getting into the weekend and we could see some rain on Saturday," said health department spokeswoman Lisa LaPlante. "These are conditions that make it really good for the breeding of mosquitoes."
The health department recommends eliminating standing water in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. For example, homeowners should empty bird baths.
The type of mosquito that carries West Nile virus can breed in as little water as a bottle cap, so eliminating those water sources may be more difficult than expected.
The City of Grand Rapids announced Tuesday that it will again begin to target storm drain catch basins with a larvicide pellet to kill the insects, much like the City of East Grand Rapids did in 2005.
The city will concentrate its attack in the areas that have had the highest rates of infection.
While West Nile can be found anywhere, there seem to be geographic hot spots this year. Rising numbers of cases have been mainly in urban areas like the tri-county Detroit metro area. Here in Kent County, most of the cases have been clustered in Grand Rapids metro area, LaPlante said.
First Ward City Commissioner Walt Gutowski's mother is among those who have contracted the virus this year.
"If you have a loved one who looks like they are having flu-like symptoms, don't just assume that's what it is like I did," he said at the city commission meeting Tuesday.
Symptoms typically present like the flu, LaPlante told 24 Hour News 8 earlier this month as cases started to be confirmed.
Milder symptoms are fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
Severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
West Nile virus can also cause neurological illnesses like meningitis and encephalitis that may lead to death.
Recommendations from the Kent County Health Department:
- Use insect repellent when outdoors. Apply repellent to clothing and exposed skin, and follow directions on the product label.
- Don't apply repellent under clothing, or on cuts, wounds or irritated skin. You should not apply repellent around the eyes or mouth, and if using spray, apply spray to your hands first, and then apply to face.
- Repellent should not be used on infants under 2 months old at all. KCHD recommends putting netting over the infant's stroller. DEET-containing products should be avoided for children 24 months of age or younger, and those containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not to be used on children under three years of age.
- When using repellent on children, put it on your hands first, then on the child. Children tend to put their hands in or near their mouths, so don't apply repellent to a child's hands.
- After you and your children get back indoors, wash off the repellent with soap and water, and wash treated clothing before wearing again.
- At home, be sure you are not making it easy for mosquitoes to breed. Make sure to eliminate any standing water. Twice a week, empty water from birdbaths, flower pots, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels, and cans. Make sure rain gutters are clear of debris. Throw out old tires and other items that could collect water.
- Avoid areas where mosquitoes are likely to be, such as wooded areas or swampy land.
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