Travis County records first case of West Nile in Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first case of West Nile in Texas this year came from a patient in Travis County, the Texas Department of State Health Services said on Thursday.

Officials with the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department said Thursday the patient was under the age of 50 and did not have to be hospitalized.

“Fortunately, this person had the milder form of West Nile Virus infection–the West Nile Virus fever; and so, it was not the neuro-invasive form of the disease, which is a more serious form,” said Medical Director Dr. Phil Huang.

The milder form involves fever, headache and body aches, he says, and the rarer, more severe form can cause inflammation in your brain. Those symptoms can start as a stiff neck.

The West Nile season usually runs from June through October, but can last up until the first hard freeze of the year, DSHS said. Last year, 183 cases of West Nile were reported in Texas, including 14 deaths.

Travis County, however, had no confirmed cases of the virus in the 2013 season.

In 2012, Travis County recorded 153 cases. Six people died that year from the virus.

State health officials say this first confirmed case of 2014 does not come as a surprise.

“We fully expected to see a human case this time of year,” said Carrie Williams, spokesperson for the State Department of Health Services, “It’s summer time. People are outside. It’s the season for West Nile.”

The department is once again urging people to take precautions to protect themselves from the virus which comes from mosquitoes.

“The best way to protect yourself is by using insect repellent every time you go outside,” said Tom Sidwa, state public health veterinarian and manager of the Zoonosis Control Branch. “West Nile virus can make people very sick, with symptoms that can last for weeks or months.”

DSHS said the severity of the season varies from year to year and is difficult to predict. Factors include weather, the number of birds and mosquitoes that maintain and spread the virus, and human behavior.

There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent the illness, and those over the age of 50 and others with health issues are at a higher risk for becoming seriously ill or dying from the illness.

No further information about the person with the confirmed case in Travis County was made available to protect the patient’s privacy.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of the milder form of the illness may last for several weeks, and people tend to recover on their own.

Symptoms of the more serious form of illness, West Nile neuroinvasive disease, can include those of West Nile fever plus neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

Up to 80 percent of people infected with the virus will have no symptoms.

To reduce exposure to West Nile virus:

  • Use an approved insect repellent every time you go outside and follow the instructions on the label. Among the EPA-approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products.
  • Regularly drain standing water, including water collecting in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus breed in stagnant water.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Use air conditioning or make sure there are screens on all doors and windows to keep mosquitoes from entering the home.
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