How dangerous is West Nile Virus?

Most people get no symptoms

A mosquito bites a human victim. Most people who get mosquito bites experience no symptoms except itching, and even a minority of people who contract West Nile virus, which some mosquitoes carry, never know it. Courtesy photo

This week, the 33rd of the year, historically has the highest rate of reports for West Nile fever around the U.S. While the disease is typically reported throughout the summer, August tends to have the highest incidence of reports, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

This year, Moabites join millions of people around the country as they watch out for the disease in their place of residence, following a report on July 11 of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus. However, Moab Regional Hospital confirms that there have been no reports of anyone getting West Nile Virus in Grand County. Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff said Aug. 12 that eight people have been tested for the virus, and all eight have tested negative.

However, although the virus’ presence locally is a public health hazard, most Moabites face only a negligibly higher threat than typical. Among the causes of death in the U.S. that are about as common as West Nile fever: lawnmowers, amputations, constipation and chairs.

How many people contract West Nile?

According to the CDC, West Nile fever yields symptoms that include fever, headache and vomiting, in a minority of cases. Roughly one in five people experience any symptoms when infected, and the number of cases that lead to serious symptoms is around 1 in 150.

Serious symptoms tend to impact the central nervous system, including the brain. Among them are high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.

“Recovery from severe illness might take several weeks or months,” the CDC said on its website. “Some effects to the central nervous system might be permanent.”

Of the people who develop serious symptoms from West Nile fever, around 1 in 10 die. For context, this mortality rate – around 1 in 1,500 of people who contract the disease – makes it significantly less deadly than the flu, which the CDC estimates to have killed 79,400 people in the 2017-2018 flu season.

How many people die from West Nile?

West Nile virus is present in each state in the U.S., making it a national health concern. The spread of the virus began around 1999, when New York was the only state where the virus was known to be present.

Fast forward to 2002 and the virus had reached the Pacific Coast for the first time and has since yielded casualties in Hawaii and Alaska.

However, despite the fact that West Nile fever since 2000 has shown its face in every state, the disease is dangerous in a relatively small number of cases.

According to data from the CDC and the National Weather Service, the number of times in 2017 that doctors cited West Nile fever as a cause of death was 127. In other words, the disease likely claimed the lives of 127 people that year.

That year, the number of people who died because of the virus was smaller than the number of people struck by lightning. It was also the same number of people who doctors said died from complications after a limb amputation.

For context, causes of death in 2017 that were roughly as common as West Nile fever included contact with a lawnmower (88 people), same-level falls on ice or snow (109 people), constipation (205 people), and accidental falls involving a chair (371 people).

The number of people who died in 2017 whose cause of death doctors were unable to discern (not including cases of infant death syndrome) was 152.