West Nile virus off to late start in Ohio as doctors treat first case in Cuyahoga County

CLEVELAND - As doctors treat a Cuyahoga County woman hospitalized with Ohio's first reported case of West Nile virus this year, they are urging everyone to protect themselves against the mosquito-carried virus.

"Things like changing your bird bath water or pets' outdoor water," said Dr. Melissa Osborn, an infectious disease specialist at MetroHealth Medical Center. "If you have a tire swing, drilling holes in the bottom so that that water can drain out those will do things that will prevent mosquitoes from being around."

Using insect repellant with Deet is also highly recommended.

West Nile is a virus spread through mosquito bites.

"Most of the time when people get it they don't really get sick at all," Osborn said. "About four out of five people never even know that they get West Nile."

It is in the elderly or those with other diseases or weaker immune systems that the disease takes its biggest toll, turning into meningitis or encephalitis in the worst cases.

In 2012, the first Ohio case of West Nile came about a month earlier. It was a year where the state saw the highest number of human cases, 121, since 2002, when the number of cases shot up from zero the two previous years to 441 and resulted in 31 Ohio deaths.

The numbers dropped in the years to come, reaching a decade low of two in 2009.

Since 2002, the state tests on average between a quarter to a half million mosquitoes annually in an effort to stay ahead of any possible spread.

"The symptoms of the bad kinds of West Nile, the meningitis and encephalitis would be things like fever, headache, acting abnormally like being confused or more sleepy than usual," Osborn said.

Some people have symptoms less related to the brain like nausea or vomiting that might be more difficult to pick up that it could be a West Nile infection, she said.

"There's no specific treatment for West Nile unfortunately, but we do make sure that we give good supportive care," Osborn said.

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