CDC expert gets West Nile bug
Lyle Petersen, director of the division of vector borne diseases at the CEnters for Disease Control and Prevention, was infected with West Nile virus while collecting his mail. As one of the world's most preeminent experts on the virus, he had a suspicion that the symptoms he began feeling after being bitten pointed to the condition - blood tests later confirmed this.
"From my own experience, I can tell you it's not a very mild illness," Petersen cautioned. "It will ruin your summer."
Experts are expecting another epidemic of the disease this summer. The incidence of West Nile virus has remained the same for the past four years, and Petersen says he doesn't expect this year to be any different. It should reach its peak between mid-July and mid-September. Health Minute: More on West Nile virus risk »
"People tend to discount this as a significant problem," Petersen said, "but more than 1.5 million people have been infected so far in the United States, and about 300,000 have had West Nile fever."
West Nile virus emerged in the U.S. nine years ago. The virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes contract the illness by feeding on infected birds.
The CDC reported that in rare cases, West Nile virus has spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants and breastfeeding. The disease is not spread through casual contact.
"I discovered I had West Nile virus because I am a long-distance runner," he said. "About halfway through one of my runs, I felt terrible. Within a couple of hours, I was lying in bed with severe headaches, eye pain, muscle pain and fever, which lasted about a week. I basically couldn't get out of bed for a week."
It wasn't just Petersen who became sick, but his daughter and the neighbor were complaining of West Nile virus symptoms hours after being swarmed by mosquitoes at the mailbox.
A medical doctor, Petersen actually tested his own blood in the laboratory and diagnosed his own illness.
"This is not a mild illness, and people should try to avoid it."
Petersen mentioned that some patients with West Nile virus can develop a severe neurological disease that can be fatal.
There is no effective treatment for the virus. In more serious cases, the CDC recommends that patients be hospitalized so they can receive supportive care with intravenous fluids.
Researchers are working to develop a vaccine, but Petersen notes that it will be years before it is available to humans.
The best way to stop the spread of West Nile virus is through prevention, he said.
"Wear mosquito repellent, especially around dawn and dusk, which are peak mosquito biting times," Petersen suggests.