West Nile Virus Hits Texas

This year Texas has seen more human cases of West Nile Virus than in recent years.  The Department of State Health Services reports 455 human cases.  The Dallas area has seen more cases than other Texas counties.  Twenty Texans have died of West Nile Virus in 2012.

What is West Nile virus?
West Nile virus can infect humans, birds, horses and mosquitoes. Infection from this virus is most commonly found in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East.

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus infection?
Most people have no symptoms. Others may have only mild symptoms (West Nile fever).  Symptoms usually occur 3 to 14 days after a mosquito bites you and last for 3 to 6 days.

Look for:

  • Skin rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes (lymph glands)
  • An achy feeling in the back and muscles

Symptoms of more severe illness include:

  • A sudden high fever (above 102°F)
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Feeling disoriented or confused
  • Tremors or muscle jerks
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Weakness or partial paralysis

Contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms and have recently been bitten by a mosquito.

How is West Nile virus spread?
West Nile virus is most often spread by mosquitoes that become infected by biting birds that carry the virus. This happens most often in the warm-weather months of spring, summer and early fall. You cannot get West Nile virus from another person or from your pet.

Who is at risk for infection with West Nile virus?
People who live where West Nile virus has been found in humans, birds, horses or mosquitoes are at risk for infection. However, even in these areas, it’s very unlikely that you will get sick from a mosquito bite.  You are at a greater risk if you spend lots of time outdoors during the warmer months or if you don’t protect your skin with an insect repellent with DEET.

Who is most likely to get sick?

People 50 years of age and older and people who have weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of becoming severely ill from West Nile virus. Less than 1% of the people who do get infected with West Nile become severely ill.  Most people who either do not develop symptoms or only get mild symptoms. Less than 1% of those people infected will get a severe infection.   Almost all fully recover.

Is there a treatment for West Nile virus infection?
There is no specific treatment. People with mild symptoms usually get better after a few days without medicine.  People who have severe illness may be hospitalized and given intravenous (IV) fluids.

Can West Nile virus cause any other problems?
In rare cases, West Nile virus causes a disease such as a swelling of the brain called encephalitis or swelling of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord called meningitis.

Is there a vaccine for West Nile virus?
There is no vaccine to prevent West Nile virus in humans.

How can West Nile virus infection be prevented?
The best way to avoid infection with West Nile virus is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood.

Your best defense is to practice the “Four Ds”:

  1. Use insect repellent containing DEET (20-30%), picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Talk to your doctor before you use insect repellent on your child.
  2. Dress in long sleeves and long pants when you are outside.
  3. Stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.
  4. Drain standing water where mosquitoes breed. Common breeding sites include old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Is West Nile virus common in this area?
  • Am I at risk of contracting West Nile virus?
  • What can I do to protect myself from West Nile virus?
  • What treatment is best for me?
  • Will cold or flu medicines help?
  • Can my child get West Nile virus from me?
  • What kind of insect repellent should I use?
  • If I start feeling worse, when should I call my doctor?

Sources:

http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/disease/arboviral/westnile/

http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/west-nile-virus.printerview.all.html  (Full  handout from FamilyDoctor.org)

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