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CDC: West Nile Virus Outbreak on Track to Be Worst in U.S. History

Federal officials announced Wednesday that 1,118 illnesses and 41 deaths have been reported nationwide. That number is expected to rise dramatically in the coming weeks.

This summer's outbreak of West Nile virus is on track to be the worst in United States history, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

So far this year, 1,118 illnesses and 41 deaths have been reported nationwide. CDC officials said that number is expected to rise dramatically in the coming weeks, since most infections are typically reported in August and September.

"We're in the midst of one of the largest West Nile virus outbreaks ever seen in the United States," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases at the CDC.

In a press conference Wednesday, Petersen said the total is the highest number of West Nile virus cases reported to the CDC through the third week of August since the disease was first detected in the U.S. in 1999.

The worst year on record is 2003, in which the country saw 9,862 cases of West Nile virus infection and 264 deaths, according to the CDC.

Petersen said approximately 75 percent of the cases reported this year are from five states: Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

As of Wednesday, 27 people in Illinois have contracted West Nile virus, and two have died—, 76, who succumbed to the illness on Saturday, and a 64-year-old man from Elgin.

Five human cases have been confirmed so far in DuPage County, including a and a .

The CDC and the DuPage County Health Department have recently warned residents of the high risk for infection from the virus after the warm, dry temperatures created a perfect breeding environment for the Culex mosquito, the main transmitter of the virus to humans.

According to health officials, the virus can be prevented by:

  • Using insect repellents when you go outdoors. 
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants from dusk to dawn.
  • Installing or repairing screens on windows and door, and using air conditioning, if you have it.
  • Emptying standing water from items outside your home such as flowerpots, buckets and kiddie pools.

Approximately one in five people who are infected with West Nile virus will develop symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash, according to press release from the DuPage County Health Department. 

Less than 1 percent will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues), officials said. 

People over 50 years of age and those with certain medical conditions—such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and organ transplants—are at greater risk for serious illness, according to the release.

There are no medications to treat, or vaccines to prevent, West Nile virus infection. Individuals with milder illnesses typically recover on their own, but more severe cases often require hospitalization.

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