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Precautions will lessen exposure to West Nile

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Throughout the summer, 25 deaths in Texas have been attributed to the West Nile virus. This week, San Antonio reported its second death from the mosquito-borne disease - along with six other confirmed cases.

The seasonal epidemic will likely remain active until the first hard frost.

Nationwide, nearly 1,118 cases of the disease have been reported this year - with almost half of them in Texas.

This is the highest number of cases reported to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.

Authorities attribute this year's unusually high number of human cases in Texas to last year's warm winter and relatively wet spring. Most of the state's confirmed cases came from the North Texas region. For the first time since the 1960s, aerial spraying was used in the Dallas area to control the mosquito vectors and help prevent the spread of the disease.

Medical personnel with the Texas Department of State Health Services continue to urge people to take precautions to reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Precautions include:

• Using an approved insect repellent when going outside and following instructions on the label. Approved repellents contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

• Regularly draining standing water, including water that collects in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water.

• Wearing long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

• Using air conditioning or making sure secure screens on doors and windows will keep mosquitoes from entering the home.

Statewide, there have been 641 cases of West Nile virus in humans. Of those, 350 were West Nile neuroinvasive disease cases, and 290 were West Nile fever cases. Deaths from the disease have occurred in Bexar, Bell, Concho, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Gregg, Harris, McLennan, Tarrant, Travis, Wharton and Williamson counties.

Over the past 10 years, 49 cases on average were reported to DSHS by this time each year, ranging from a low of three cases in 2011 to a high of 171 cases in 2006.

Humans can contract West Nile virus from a mosquito bite. Infected mosquitoes get the virus from feeding on infected birds and mammals; however, not all mosquitoes carry the virus. About one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus will develop severe illness. Additionally, approximately 80 percent of infected people - about four out of five - will not have any symptoms.

West Nile neuroinvasive disease symptoms include stiff neck, visual problems, body tremors, mental confusion, memory loss and seizures.

The milder form of the illness is West Nile fever, which causes fever, headache, muscle and bone aches, nausea and drowsiness.

People with the milder form of illness typically recover on their own, although symptoms may last for several weeks. Up to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have no symptoms and will recover on their own.

No medications are available to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile virus infection. People over 50 years old and those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill when they become infected with the virus.

People with symptoms that cause them concern are advised to contact their healthcare provider.

Animals are also susceptible to contracting the disease. However, Conrad Nightingale, DVM, who serves as the county rabies control officer, is unaware of any West Nile cases in equines or livestock. "All of my clients have been vaccinated against the disease so we haven't seen any cases. To control West Nile, we recommend vaccinations, use of mosquito and fly repellants and keeping mosquito reservoirs empty," Nightingale said. "Because of the current drought, puddles of water in dry creeks become excellent places for a mosquito population."

For up-to-date information on West Nile statistics in humans, visit


Additionally, the latest case counts are available at