CDC reports largest number of West Nile virus cases since 2004

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – That all too familiar buzz from the mosquito has sounded more like an alarm for health officials this summer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have seen a significant increase in the number of reported cases of West Nile virus, the largest rise in eight years.

More than 240 cases have been reported this year, with three confirmed in Arkansas alone.

The CDC says the best way to avoid being infected is to prevent mosquito bites, which anyone living in the state knows is much easier said than done.

Health officials have recommended that people use insect repellent, which is a necessity for campers like Joyce Muse and her family.

Muse and her husband set aside a few days to relax at Craighead Forest Lake in Jonesboro, but she came prepared to prevent any pesky mosquitoes from ruining her good time.

"This is the only one that I have found that really protects me from mosquitoes," Muse said, waving around a can of Repel, her favorite bug spray, "and they'll eat me up if I don't have something on me."

Muse actually carries around several cans of the mosquito repellent, and the CDC believes others should follow her example to help fend off West Nile virus.

Mosquitoes pick up the virus from birds they bite and then spread it to people.

The threat is a big concern for some, like Karla Hazlewood.

"Normally, they kill me because I'm allergic to them (mosquitoes)," Hazlewood said. "I just get big ole whelps, and I'm just miserable in the summer – not this year."

For the past month, Hazlewood has taken a teaspoon of diatomaceous earth every morning. She mixes it into a can of soda to mask the taste.

The white powder, made from a soft, sedimentary rock, is mainly used to kill fleas and ticks on pets. Hazlewood, however, learned humans can use it to ward off mosquitoes and bought some at a local feed store.

"I go out in the yard all the time in the early part of the afternoon," she explained. "Mosquitoes don't bite very well. Sometimes I'll get one or two bites the whole time I'm out there. They just don't bother me a lot."

No matter the defense, the CDC advises people to better protect themselves and their families from the disease.

Most infections occur between July and September, hitting their peak in August.

Other recommended strategies to avoid infection include putting screens on doors and windows, wearing long sleeved shirts and pants and emptying any containers of standing water near people's homes.

To learn more about West Nile virus, click here.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.