BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While the death toll from the West Nile virus
cases in the U.S., currently 41, is alarming, most people exposed
to it never develop symptoms, notes Tom Russo, MD, professor of
medicine at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and
The most recent numbers for West Nile virus cases reported to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are 1,118.
"Approximately 80 percent of infected individuals will be
asymptomatic," says Russo. "About 20 percent will develop mild
disease characterized by fever, headache and body aches. Less than
1 percent will develop severe disease, manifested by neurologic
symptoms, such as high fever, stiff neck, muscle weakness or
paralysis, stupor or coma and convulsions.
"People over the age of 50 are most vulnerable," he continues.
"If symptoms do develop, it is usually between three and 14 days
after the mosquito bite."
Russo adds: "Although there is only one case in Western New York
to date, data from the Erie County Public Health Department have
shown that the number of infected mosquitoes in the region is
higher this year than in recent years. Therefore, prevention is
Since there is no treatment for West Nile virus, he says that
the best advice is to avoid mosquito bites, by trying not to go
outdoors from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
"If you do have to go out, wear long sleeves and long pants and
do apply insect repellant," he advises. "Also, make sure you have
screens on windows and the screens do not have holes in order to
prevent mosquitoes from entering your home. Mosquitoes breed in
standing water so drain all standing water on your property, make
sure that gutters and other structures are free of water and
debris, drill a hole in tire swings to promote drainage and be sure
to empty bird baths and kiddie pools."