May 24, 2013
As Memorial Day approaches and people are spending more time outdoors, the Texas Department of State Health Services urges people to take precautions to reduce the risk of contracting West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne illness.
Last year, Texas reported 1,868 human cases of West Nile illness, including 89 deaths. 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.
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.
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, 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.
Last year’s outbreak was unprecedented and prompted state health officials to improve response capabilities. DSHS has plans in place to quickly move to a faster form of mosquito testing and to double testing capacity if another outbreak situation appears imminent. DSHS will use an electronic disease surveillance system that makes it more efficient for local entities to electronically submit and track the status of their West Nile cases. DSHS will continue to respond to requests from local communities for information as they develop West Nile virus response plans and will consider response activities based on local mosquito surveillance and human case counts.
There are no confirmed human cases of West Nile virus so far this year. West Nile case counts by county will be posted weekly at www.dshs.state.tx.us/news/updates.shtm.
Note: Local health departments report human cases of West Nile virus to DSHS and may have more up-to-date numbers on new cases in their areas.
(News Media Contact: Christine Mann, DSHS Assistant Press Officer, 512-776-7511.)
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