|Updated: 9/23/2012 1:37 pm
||Published: 9/23/2012 1:35 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A record number of people in Arkansas have died from West Nile virus this year, according to the Arkansas Health Department.
Five people have died from the mosquito-borne illness so far in 2012, the Health Department said. Four people died from the disease in 2005 and in 2006.
The total number of cases of West Nile in Arkansas sits at 43 this year, state public health veterinarian Susan Weinstein said Friday. That ties the record for the highest number of cases, which was set in 2002 when the disease first hit Arkansas.
"We do expect this number to climb just a bit more," Weinstein said, noting there is a lag time in reporting cases.
The illness spreads from birds to mosquitoes, and is then transmitted to humans. In a small percentage of cases, people with the virus can develop brain swelling, which can be fatal. About one in five people who are infected with West Nile show symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or a rash, according to the Health Department.
Weinstein said the mild winter and earlier spring-like weather may have contributed to the uptick in the state's West Nile cases.
"The higher the temperatures, the more mosquitoes will multiply," she said. "And this particular virus does better in the mosquito in the hotter weather."
The Health Department is urging people to take precautions by wearing insect repellent, dumping standing water and wearing protective clothing, particularly around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
People most at risk for serious illness are those age 50 and older and people with health conditions that include cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease and organ transplants.
There are no medications to treat West Nile, nor is there a vaccine to prevent people from contracting it in the first place, according to the Health Department.
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