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Worst Year for West Nile Since 1999

CDC estimates more deaths from mosquito-driven virus in a decade.

West Nile Virus has killed 118 individuals this summer, and more people have become seriously ill from the mosquitto-transmitted virus this year than in any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though worst part of the season may be in the rearview for most of the country, there may still be more death reports, and the possibility for more infection is still a reality, particularly in our warmer climate.

"The number of deaths is likely to go up," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, a CDC researcher. "We will expect even if transmission stopped tomorrow... We would expect the number of deaths to rise across the country."

Death reports lag to the federal government because seriously infected individuals may not die from their infection for several weeks or months after the initial infection. See state-by-state rankings. Texas has been hit the hardest this year, with 1,057 reported cases and 46 deaths.

West Nile outbreaks in the United States tend to peak in mid-to-late-August, but since the disease can spread as long as mosquitoes fly, there's a chance for infection as long as warm weather persists.

Here's how bad the outbreak has gotten:

• 48 states have reported West Nile infections;
• 2,636 individuals have been infected;
• 1,405 cases of neuroinvasive disease (the most serious infection);
• Highest number of serious infections on record;
• 118 individuals have died from West Nile;
• 35 percent increase in deaths over 2011;
• 1 death in South Carolina this year;
• 8 infections in South Carolina this year.

The 1,405 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease (the most serious level of infection) is the highest number of such cases reported since West Nile virus was introduced into the United States in 1999, the CDC reports.

Though the worst of the season has passed for most of the U.S., warmer climates, such as the South Carolina Lowcountry, should remain alert.

"The longer the weather stays warm, the more transmission that's going to occur, and so it's certainly possible that in some areas of the country the outbreak may not have peaked yet," Petersen said in a Wednesday call with reporters.

"In the southern United States cases can occur all year round...even in November and December."

Charleston County has stepped up its spraying for mosquitoes in recent months as the threat of West Nile increased, but the CDC says individuals have the largest impact on reducing outbreaks.

The CDC encourages everyone to:

  • Use repellents when you go outdoors. 
  • Empty standing water from items outside your home such as gutters, flowerpots, buckets, kiddie pools, and birdbaths.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants during dawn and dusk.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors. 
  • Use air conditioning, if possible.
  • Support your local community mosquito control programs.

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