WASHINGTON – The current West Nile outbreak has health officials scrambling to understand why this year’s infections are more pronounced than in previous years.
Already, more than 1,100 people have been infected with the potentially deadly disease, about half of them in Texas. That number is roughly four times the usual amount of cases for this time of year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
And it could get worse given how early it is in the West Nile season.
“It usually starts in mid to late summer and peaks in later summer to early fall,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “The cases that we’re seeing now are alarmingly high for the first three weeks in August.”
West Nile infections are nothing new. Cases have been reported in the U.S. since 1999, but it’s impossible to predict outbreaks in advance, Fauci says. Because the disease varies from year to year, it’s important to protect oneself from mosquito bites.
Fauci recommends covering up and wearing repellant, especially at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
The outbreak “could plateau quickly and go down if, in fact, the people in general as well as public health officials address the issue of mosquitoes,” he says.
Dallas answered the call by aerially spraying pesticides over the city after Mayor Mike Rawlings declared a state of emergency earlier this month. The tactic has drawn criticism from residents and officials worried about the potential side effects of chemical spraying.
To hear more on West Nile and last year’s superbug, listen to Fauci’s full audio.