Via The Dallas Morning News, a columnist suggests: Maybe we’re not worried enough about the West Nile virus. Excerpt:
Don’t panic. Don’t stockpile canned goods or duct-tape the windows shut or hide in a dark bedroom with a blanket over your head.
But we need to pay attention to the risks posed by the West Nile virus. It needs to be on our minds.
It goes against my ordinarily cynical, skeptical nature to say this, having heartily mocked such epic fear-fests as H1N1 Panic, Bird Flu Freakout, SARS derangement syndrome and assorted localized outbreaks of lesser anxieties.
But this could be one epidemiological threat we’re not taking as seriously as we should.
There’s not a lot of U.S. tracking data on West Nile, since it did not appear in this country until 1999. And the risk of contracting the virus at all remains statistically remote.
But there’s growing concern about the severity of the current seasonal outbreak, for which Dallas County is ground zero. With 10 deaths and 190 confirmed cases since May, ours is the worst-affected region in the country.
In just the last few weeks, the rate of infection from the mosquito-borne illness has accelerated.
“This is a matter of extreme concern,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who last week declared the outbreak a public health emergency and recommended aerial spraying in some urban neighborhoods to begin in the next few days. “All options are on the table.”
It was a swift turnaround for county officials who just days earlier said they weren’t even considering aerial spraying, even after it was publicly recommended by the Dallas County Medical Society. On Monday, the county was inviting more cities to be sprayed aerially.
While effective, airborne spraying is politically unpopular with anti-pesticide groups. In some parts of the country, chemophobic activists have compared the relatively low-toxicity insecticide used against mosquitoes to DDT and Agent Orange.
Those claims are exaggerated, but it’s understandable that people aren’t crazy about having a chemical insecticide blanket indiscriminately applied to their neighborhoods. Some studies indicate the chemical is also toxic to beneficial insect species, including honeybees.
Besides, the risk of any single person getting sick with West Nile are still reassuringly low. As we have been told repeatedly, only 1 in 5 infected people will show any symptoms at all. And only one in 150 of the unlucky infected will come down with anything much worse than an inconvenient bout of flu.
But people who develop that serious “neuroinvasive” version of the disease are in for the fight of their lives.
For those few, the virus can attack the nervous system with such terrifying symptoms as burning fever, convulsions, uncontrollable vomiting or paranoid hallucinations.
Meanwhile, Xinhua says that Dallas on Monday reported its tenth case of West Nile.