In just one week, the number of cases of West Nile virus in America has almost doubled, increasing from 693 cases and 26 deaths to 1,221 cases and 42 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Spreading mainly through Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas, the new batch of cases “indicates that we are in one of the biggest West Nile virus outbreaks we have ever seen in this country,” according to the CDC’s Lyle Petersen.
But don’t stock up on haz-mat suits and disinfectant just yet. While dangerous, the virus is not contagious in normal human-to-human interaction; it’s transmitted by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds.
Only about 20 percent of people who contract West Nile develop symptoms including fever, headache, body ache, and swollen lymph glands, and of those only about 1 percent develop the neuroinvasive disease causing inflammation of the brain. Among those most serious cases, about one in 10 are life-threatening.