JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The number of cases of West Nile virus is on the rise in Missouri, with at least four cases verified in the past week, state health officials said Friday.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said a total of five cases have been reported in the state since July.
The agency is asking Missourians to be cautious over the Labor Day weekend. That's because about half of the people who contracted West Nile virus last year became infected around the holiday, the department said.
This year's first confirmed case of West Nile virus in Missouri was a 6-year-old Putnam County girl, who showed symptoms in July. The virus also was believed to be a factor in the death of an 82-year-old St. Louis man earlier this month.
Other cases have been reported in St. Louis and Jackson counties and another in St. Louis city, health department officials said.
Below last year's levels
The health department cautioned that some of the investigations are ongoing and that the status of cases are subject to change. Missouri had recorded 25 preliminarily positive West Nile virus cases by this time last year.
Human West Nile virus cases across the United States have risen sharply in recent weeks and currently stand at 1,442 cases from 34 states with 21 fatalities. A total of 480 cases were reported from 21 states and the District of Columbia for the same time in 2002.
"Although human cases of West Nile virus infection in Missouri are below last year's levels, citizens should remain cautious," said Howard Pue, state public health veterinarian.
Pue said the virus often picks up steam in summer and early fall. He noted that 75 percent of West Nile virus cases occurred during August and September last year. The last case in Missouri last year occurred in October.
Earlier this week, a rural Northwest Missouri blood donor tested positive for West Nile virus, according to reports from the Community Blood Center. Officials at the center said the donor showed no symptoms of the virus. The blood was discarded.
The center, a nonprofit supplier of blood services for more than 70 hospitals in Missouri and Kansas, has branches in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Jefferson City, Mo., and Lawrence, Kan.
The Missouri health department said that in the past week, the number of local public health agencies reporting West Nile virus activity increased from 42 to 48, and the number of dead birds that tested positive increased by almost 70 percent.
The number of horses and mosquitoes testing positive for the virus also continues to increase, the department said.
Last year there were 168 confirmed human West Nile virus cases in Missouri. Of those, 116 were either in St. Louis County or the city of St. Louis. Seven people in the state died from the disease.
Mosquitoes transfer the virus to humans and horses after biting infected birds. It cannot be transmitted from person to person or from birds to people. In extreme cases, the virus can cause brain inflammation. More routine symptoms include fever, headaches and body aches that generally last for a few days.
To reduce the chance of mosquito bites, people are encouraged to get rid of old tires, containers and debris that can hold water and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes, Pue said. People also are encouraged to wear insect repellent containing the chemical DEET, especially during high activity times for mosquitoes such as dawn and dusk.
On the Net
Health Department: www.dhss.state.mo.us/WestNileVirus/index...