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West Nile Virus Update

Published Aug. 15, 2012 @ 6 a.m.

The West Nile situation continues to get worse around the state. The latest case of WNV fever has been reported in Hale County. The West Nile virus is very active this year in some areas of the state, and according to some health experts, could get worse.

We should all take precautions to reduce the risk of contracting West Nile virus, a mosquito borne illness. People should use insect repellent when outdoors and avoid going outside at dusk and dawn. The virus cases have currently been reported in those from the age of 6 to 92, so everyone is at risk especially if the proper precautions are not taken.

The higher than usual number of human West Nile cases in Texas this year is due to the warm winter and recent rains, particularly in the North Texas region. Statewide there have currently been 381 human West Nile virus cases and 16 deaths reported to DSHS this year. Of those, 224 were West Nile neuroinvasive disease cases, and 157 were West Nile fever cases. Approximately 80 percent of the cases reside in Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Denton counties.

Humans can contract West Nile virus from a mosquito bite. Infected mosquitoes get the virus from feeding on infected birds and mammals. The virus can cause serious illness or death. 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. Symptoms include 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.

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.

There are no medications 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. If people have symptoms that cause them concern, they should contact their healthcare provider.

To reduce exposure to West Nile virus:

* Use an approved insect repellent every time you go outside and follow the instructions on the label. Approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

* Regularly drain standing water, including water collects in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes 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.

West Nile Virus is not preventable in humans with a vaccine but there is a vaccine for horses. For more information on vaccinating your horses, contact your veterinarian.

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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