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West Nile Perspective

On The Daily Show recently, Jon Stewart made jokes about how Americans tend to get worked up over new threats to their health, while they are comfortable with old threats that are much more dangerous. Maybe a little perspective is needed.

Utah has recorded its first human death, of a 72-year-old woman, from the West Nile virus. West Nile does tend to effect the elderly and immune-compromised (which can include chemotherapy and HIV patients) the most, but it affects different people differently. The vast majority of people who are bitten by a carrier mosquito do not even become sick. Many others feel slight flu-like symptoms that later disappear. About 1 in 150 becomes seriously ill. Health officials have a hard time saying exactly how many people have been infected in Utah because many never feel badly enough to visit a doctor.

The disease is far more deadly among animals. In particular, horses suffer a death rate of about 30% In parts of California, horses with West Nile have a death rate of up to 55%.

Utah is a dry state, not known for an abundance of mosquitoes. No matter where you live, you should apply a repellent, such as DEET, and wear long sleeves and long pants, in the evening hours when mosquitoes are out.

Nationwide, about 100 people died from West Nile last year. By comparison, about 35,000 or more people die each year from the flu, despite the fact that there is usually enough flu vaccination serum available for everyone in the country to avoid catching the disease. The best defense against flu is to wash your hands whenever you come in from outside, since flu viruses live on surfaces.

Nearly 40,000 people die each year in automobile accidents, and more than half of these are caused by someone veering outside their lane into oncoming traffic and thus could have been avoided. Cell phones may be a problem?the jury is still out on that one.

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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