Cautions, not panic, for West Nile virus |

Cautions, not panic, for West Nile virus

The inevitability of the West Nile virus arriving in Nevada proved itself this week with confirmation of the disease in birds found in Carson City, Silver Springs and Fernley.

There were also possible cases of human infection in Clark and Washoe counties, although it wasn’t yet clear where they originated. California has 35 human cases and one reported death so far this year, after just three cases and no fatalities last year.

As health officials noted, there is no reason for panic – but there is reason to take precautions, which should already have been on the agenda of horse owners. Those animals need to be vaccinated.

For people, the best precautions are to eliminate breeding grounds for virus-carrying mosquitoes – something we highly recommend every summer anyway – and to do what they can to avoid being bitten by the bugs. Again, it’s pretty standard stuff: repellent containing the pesticide DEET, long sleeves, pants and socks.

To put West Nile virus in context, however, it is quite a ways down the list of illnesses which can actually prove fatal to humans.

The disease appeared in the United States in 1999 and has killed more than 560 people over the past five years. The disease has sickened more than 180 people across the country so far this year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Influenza and pneumonia, for example, kill more than 60,000 people a year.

Although fatal in birds, symptoms of the disease are usually so mild to people that they are believed to go unnoticed in 80 percent of cases, federal health officials said. Fewer than one in five cases develop into mild flu-like symptoms, and less than 1 percent of cases can be fatal, according to the Associated Press.

People can also help the health departments track spread of the disease by reporting unusual incidences of dead birds. Be aware of the hazard, but don’t be alarmed.