Texas sees first West Nile case of the year

(NBC News)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Shortly after warning about the rains that could lead to a summer full of mosquitoes, we’re getting word of the first West Nile case of the year in Texas.

The person was diagnosed in Harris County with West Nile neuroinvasive disease, the more serious form of illness – though Texas Department of State Health Services officials aren’t releasing additional personal details in order to protect the patient’s identity.

DSHS officials are reminding people how to protect themselves from the mosquito-borne virus that causes it.

To reduce the chances of a mosquito bite that can transmit West Nile virus

  • Use an approved insect repellent every time they go outside and follow the instructions on the label. Among the EPA-approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus/para-menthane-diol.
  • 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.

“Up to 80 percent of people who contract the virus don’t get symptoms and won’t even know they have it,” said Dr. Tom Sidwa, state public health veterinarian and manager of DSHS’s zoonosis control branch. “But those who do get sick can experience very serious effects ranging from fever to substantial neurological symptoms and even death.”

Symptoms of the milder form of illness, West Nile fever

  • headache
  • fever
  • muscle and joint aches
  • nausea
  • fatigue

People with West Nile fever typically recover on their own, although symptoms may last for weeks to months.

Meanwhile, symptoms of West Nile neuroinvasive disease can include those of West Nile fever — plus neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

However, there are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile virus infection.

People over 50 years old and those with other health issues are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying when they become infected with the virus. If people have symptoms and suspect West Nile virus infection, they should contact their healthcare provider.

Health officials are also monitoring cases of another mosquito-borne virus, chikungunya.

Seven people in Texas have been diagnosed with chikungunya this year. So far, all Texas cases have been acquired by people traveling abroad in areas where the virus is more common, particularly Central- and South America. The same precautions apply, and DSHS encourages travelers to take steps to avoid mosquito bites.

Last year, there were 379 human cases of West Nile illness in Texas, including six deaths.

During the summer of 2012, every zip code in Travis County had at least one sample of mosquitoes test positive for West Nile Virus. Last summer, there were about half a dozen zip code areas.

In 2012, there were 1,800 human cases of West Nile virus in the state of Texas alone, with more than 80 deaths.

Health officials use a stinky, manure-infused water to trap the insect. The mosquitoes are attracted to the smelly, standing water, which is poured into a plastic bin. A battery-powered fan is then placed over the water to suck the mosquitoes up into a special netting.

Crews have set up more than 30 traps around the city, and they collect samples from them daily.

Tips to avoid mosquitoes and reduce risk of disease

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is reminding neighbors that it only takes a teaspoon of water for mosquitoes to breed — an important tip with the ongoing rain. Mosquitoes are in Central Texas all year, but the population is largest and most active during the months of May through November.

Officials also point out that the best way to address the threat of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses is through education and taking some preventative steps to ensure your exposure to mosquitoes is minimal. So far, no mosquitoes in our area have tested positive for West Nile.

Most people who are infected with the West Nile virus don’t experience any signs or symptoms. While the illness can be as short as a few days, even healthy people have reported being sick for several weeks. Health officials say “advanced age” is by far the most significant risk factor for developing severe disease after infection. The risk of severe disease is greatest among people age 50 years and older.

Follow the 4 Ds

  • Dusk and dawn: Whenever possible, avoid prolonged outdoor activity at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Dress: Wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
  • DEET: Use mosquito repellent and carefully follow all label directions.
  • Drain: Regularly check yards and neighborhoods for water-holding containers and empty them out. It only takes a teaspoon of water for mosquitoes to breed.

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