The Texas Department of State Health Services is reporting the state’s first case of West Nile illness this year and reminding people how to protect themselves from the mosquito-borne virus that causes it.
A patient in Harris County has been diagnosed with West Nile neuroinvasive disease, the more serious form of illness. DSHS won’t release additional personal details in order to protect the patient’s identity. To reduce the chances of a mosquito bite that can transmit West Nile virus, people should:
- Use an approved insect repellent every time they go outside and follow the instructions on the label. Among the EPA-approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus/para-menthane-diol.
- Regularly drain standing water, including water collecting in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus 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.
“Up to 80 percent of people who contract the virus don’t get symptoms and won’t even know they have it,” said Dr. Tom Sidwa, state public health veterinarian and manager of DSHS’s zoonosis control branch. “But those who do get sick can experience very serious effects ranging from fever to substantial neurological symptoms and even death.”
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 weeks to months. Symptoms of West Nile neuroinvasive disease can include those of West Nile fever plus neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
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.
Health officials are also monitoring cases of another mosquito-borne virus, chikungunya. Seven Texas residents have been diagnosed with chikungunya this year. So far, all Texas cases have been acquired by people travelling abroad in areas where the virus is more common, particularly the Caribbean. The same precautions apply, and DSHS encourages travelers to take steps to avoid mosquito bites.