review of the west nile virus

May 23, 2007

Fight the Bite! It’s coming for you! Or, if you’re an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” fan, “THEY’RE HERE!”

And by “they’re,” of course, I mean mosquitoes. Nope, not gigantic African mosquitoes, not those killer Brazillian mosquitos. Just, well, you know, mosquitoes.

I drive to work every day along Interstate 15, and I see a few billboards. My favorite is always “Fight The Bite!” The Center For Disease Control apparently feels like mosquitoes are threatening civilization as we know it, our very way of life, in the same way, I guess that Saddam Hussein threatened us.

Only, instead of full scale invasion, how does the CDC want us to respond to the threat of the mosquitoes? By keeping insect repellent handy, and wearing long sleeves and long pants. Why? Because just “one mosquito bite can transmit West Nile Virus or other diseases.” I love that. “or other diseases.” Watch out! If you get bitten by a mosquito, you could get West Nile Virus! Or, um, you know, some other diseases?

So let me get this straight—I grew up in Minnesota, apart from the jungles of Indonesia, probably the mosquito capital of the world. (When you drive by baseball fields in Minnesota, you would notice all the kids in the outfield with one arm in the air, not signaling fatigue, or calling for the ball, but rather trying to fool the mosquitoes and gnats into biting their mitts, rather than their faces. It doesn’t have to work to be effective, you just have to believe it works, right? Magic Ear Muffs.)

I have been bitten by mosquitoes roughly 18,000,000,000 times. I could have set up my own blood doping operation. I think I’m now qualified to be a phlebotomist. And apart from Malaria, which, of course, we’re all terrified of if we ever saw a pirate movie, I only really feared getting so many mosquito bites that I would scratch enough of them off to reveal bone tissue.

But now, suddenly, because three (3) people in Utah have died from West Nile Virus this year, I’m supposed to go out and buy burqas for me and my family?

A little research reveals who’s at risk of West Nile Virus. From the Salt Lake City Deseret News: “A 79-year-old Springville man has died from severe complications caused by West Nile virus, health officials announced Tuesday.” Oh, well. And also, “Symptoms of West Nile virus vary from case to case. About 80 percent of people who are infected show no symptoms at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” So, you know, old people, and well, mostly nobody.

I fear no mosquito. Or, I should say, I used to fear no mosquito. But now, now, I must Fight The Bite!

What must we do then? They say long sleeves and long pants. Uh huh. Do they realize I live in a desert? That I have three kids who play soccer and lacrosse? That I am required by law to sit in 100 degree weather in August and watch 3 soccer/lacrosse games consecutively every Saturday? Do they suggest I also cover my shoulders with a shawl and carry a parasol?

Now I have to choose: die of heat stroke in the park surrounded by soccer moms, or suffer and die from the dreaded West Nile Virus, along with 3 other pre-selected geriatrics.

Let’s do the numbers: the death rate from West Nile Virus is low (3%, if you’re not already close to death when you get the disease). The symptoms are, for about 80% of those infected, um, well, nothing. That is, in most people, infection with the terrifying West Nile Virus, causes NO symptoms. Not even a cough. Of course, in .7% of those infected (yes, that’s POINT SEVEN percent of those infected), the symptoms can include encephalitis and meningitis and temporary blindness, three symptoms that can be remarkably uncomfortable. For those 8 or 9 folks unfortunate enough to develop any symptoms.

Compare that to my favorite deadly disease, the Ebola Virus, for which the death rate is 50%-90%. And Ebola has some very cool symptoms, including general body pain (which means after every bike race I do, I fear I may be coming down with the Ebola Virus) and massive bleeding from all orifices, which by any yardstick, is a doozy of a symptom, kind of trumping pretty much any other disease I know about.

I propose a color coded alert system for the West Nile Virus. It will consist of two colors: Red and Orange.

Red means terrified beyond the capacity for reasonable or coherent thought.

Orange means my eyes have rolled back up into my head, and I’ve passed out from fear.

Hey, it’s the West Nile Virus. You can never be too frightened.

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