The Arkansas Department of Health reported Wednesday that the state has had its first death this year from West Nile Virus.

According to ADH, the virus that is spread through mosquito bites has been documented in 15 cases in the state in 2012.

About half of all 1,118 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection have come from neighboring Texas, according to the health department.

While there is no treatment for the virus, Dr. Mike Fahr, Conway Regional Emergency Room medical director, says there are preventative measures to take.

"Prevention is key here, and people should use repellent. The guide is that children over two months should use a Deet repellent up to 30 percent," said Fahr.

Adults can use a higher percentage without ill effects, though the chemical

should be washed off of skin when exposure to the insect is finished.

"Don’t apply it to children’s hands and face so that they don’t ingest it, and always wash it off when you’re through," he said.

Avoiding the outdoors during peak times such as dusk and dawn will also diminish a person’s chances of being bitten.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda, and later identified in the United States in 1999, according to the CDC.

For an unknown reason the virus has a tremendous presence this year, said John Patton, Conway Regional marketing coordinator.

"It isn’t known why it has been a bad year. It fluctuates much like the presence of the flu in certain years," he said.

The Associated Press reports the number of cases documented nationwide is three times as many as usually seen at this point in the season.

Cases are most common in June through September, with infections peaking mid-August, according to ADH.

Fahr says symptoms to watch out for are those similar to influenza.

"People experience a myriad of symptoms including headache, fatigue, aches, nausea and vomiting. It can feel like a bad cold," he said.

It is rare for the virus to become deadly, though it is possible in cases with the elderly, young or those with medical conditions.

"We can give medicine to treat symptoms and try to stabilize a patient. Then hopefully they can ride it out," Fahr said.

Many won’t know they have been exposed to the virus unless they become very ill or their condition warrants a blood test, said Fahr.

Conway Regional had one case of West Nile Virus about three years ago, Patton said, though more cases have likely gone unnoticed.

None have been reported at the hospital this year.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)