By MARY RAINWATER
The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the state’s first case of West Nile illness of the season — occurring in Anderson County — on Friday, and is urging residents to take precautions to reduce the risk of contracting the mosquito-borne illness.
“West Nile was confirmed in an adult male from Anderson County on May 15,” City of Palestine Emergency Management Coordinator Schelby Wells said Friday. “The patient was presented at PRMC, and due to the symptoms exhibited, was tested for West Nile. The results were confirmed as a new infection.”
The DSHS reported that the patient is recovering from the neuroinvasive form of the disease. Additional details about the patient are not being released to protect their identity.
“This is a serious illness that can take a long-lasting toll,” DSHS Commissioner Dr. David Lakey said. “Last season was unprecedented, with record numbers of cases and deaths reported in Texas. People need to do all they can to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”
Last year, Texas reported 1,868 human cases of West Nile illness, including 89 deaths. According to Wells, a case of West Nile was reported in Anderson County in 2012, but further testing showed them to be antibodies from a previous contraction of the virus.
State health officials said there is no way to predict the severity of this year’s season.
The intensity of West Nile virus activity in Texas fluctuates from year to year and depends on a variety of factors including the weather, the numbers of birds and mosquitoes that maintain and spread the virus and human behavior.
The season can last up until the first hard freeze of the year.
“The city is very diligent about spraying for mosquitoes,” Wells said. “That, combined with residents being diligent about eliminating standing water and taking other necessary precautions, cut down on any spread of the virus last year.”
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 or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
• Regularly drain standing water, including water collecting in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes that spread WNV 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.
“This being the holiday weekend, people are going to want to remain outdoors longer than usual,” Wells said. “We urge all residents to look at their residence and grounds for any standing water, to wear long sleeves and to use insect repellent.”
Symptoms of the milder form of illness, West Nile fever, can include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. People with West Nile fever typically recover on their own, although symptoms may last for several weeks. Symptoms of the more serious form, 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.
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.
For updated West Nile case counts by county, visit www.dshs.state.tx.us/news/updates.shtm. Case counts will be updated weekly.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org