West Nile Virus Cases Increase, May Get Worse As Climate Warms

The West Nile Virus has affected 1,993 Americans and killed 87 so far this year, a scary statistic that shows the growth of the mosquito-born illness in the US.

The CDC believes that the 2012 season’s caseload has peaked, but a group of public health officials are warning that this year’s record outbreak is a glimpse of what may be coming with climate changes and warmer temperatures, reports The Los Angeles Times.

The group of officials wrote in the new edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, explaining why West Nile has been so deadly in 2012, arguing that weather patterns are to blame for the rise in cases for a year that is expected to be the worst in the past 10 years.

Catherine M. Brown and Dr. Algred Demaria Jr. of the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease believe that the most likely explanation for the outbreak is extreme weather patterns, like abnormally high temperatures around the country, which could have led to the outbreak. Why?

High temperatures make for faster mosquito breeding, and also increase the development rate of viruses in those mosquitoes. Because of this, the hot temperatures around the country have not only increased the number of mosquitoes who carry the West Nile Virus, but have also raised the likelihood of a new strain arising, which can cause the disease to spread faster.

While there is no concrete evidence yet of a new strain, Brown and Demaria have pointed to an increase in dead birds (birds can also catch the virus from mosquitoes). The Oregonian notes that the increase in West Nile Virus cases has also prompted calls for research, pesticides, and finding a vaccine to battle the deadly disease.

There is currently no vaccine or effective treatment for the mosquito-borne illness. Brown and DeMaria write that:

“While the public and professionals may have become somewhat complacent (about West Nile virus), 2012 is reminding us that perhaps we shouldn’t have.”

The CDC noted on September 4th that:

“The 1,993 cases reported thus far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the first week in September since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.”

Do you think that the increase in West Nile Virus cases could be a result of hotter temperatures?

[Image from ShutterStock]