West Nile virus outbreaks in Texas during 2012 were found to be at twice the levels seen previously with a cost of likely more than $47 million, according to researchers at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) . These findings suggest a need for further observations and the implementation of preventative measures to reduce future outbreaks and minimize the spread of West Nile virus.
According to Dr. Kristy Murray, associate professor and associate vice chair of research in the department of pediatrics at BCM and director of the Laboratory of Viral and Zoonotic Diseases at Texas Children’s Hospital, the findings demonstrate how inconsistent West Nile virus can be and highlights the need to be alert in looking for signs of an outbreak, particularly early in the season.
Surveillance data from all reported Texas cases in 2012 was reviewed. Researchers found a total of 1,868 cases reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services. This included 89 deaths. It was observed that West Nile outbreaks reached an all time high of 225 during the middle of August, which was the same period for previous outbreaks ranging from 2002 to 2011. However, the 2012 outbreak had more than twice the number of outbreaks than what had been observed from 2002 to 2011. Even though 2012 presented more cases, researchers found no difference in the severity of the West Nile cases with respect to age. Generally, older adults, minorities and males are at greater risk for developing a severe form of West Nile disease and reported cases in 2012 proved no different. The most severe form of the disease involves viral penetration into the brain.
Murry notes, “The report emphasizes the importance of surveillance and mosquito control to prevent human cases.”
The researchers discovered a three-year pattern of increases that suggests there may be a cycle involved and perhaps a larger outbreak every 10 years. Murry points out that they need to develop models that can predict outbreaks. It was noticed that there were drought conditions in 2011 along with a very mild winter which may have contributed to the increase in 2012.
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