Since the first case of West Nile Virus was introduced in America in 1999, staying outdoors in the summer has meant taking some serious precautions, especially for the elderly. The disease is not spread via contact from one person to another or to persons from pets, but through the bite of the infected mosquito. The disease can infect a number of mammals including humans, birds, horses and mosquitoes. There is no vaccine for WNV, but hospitalization has saved the lives of many victims.
Any symptoms of WNV typically show up within 3-15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. Roughly 20 percent of those bitten actually experience West Nile fever, which has such symptoms as headaches, body aches, fever, swollen lymph glands and sometimes a skin rash on the trunk of the body. Less than one percent of infected patients will experience neuroinvasive WNV, the most serious strain of the disease. It affects brain tissue and can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Symptoms, which come on rapidly, include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck (because of meningitis), confusion, muscle weakness, unconsciousness, coma and even death. Historically, the majority of patients that have developed neuroinvasive WNV have been over 50 years old. Many have had other health-related risks already, such as chronic diseases.
So far this year, there have been 5 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus in north Texas. The first confirmed case of 2014 in Tarrant County is an individual from Crowley that has the most severe form of the disease. In 2012, the peak year in Tarrant County for WNV, there were 280 cases reported and 11 deaths.
Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH) is working with other city, state and federal agencies to help eliminate breeding areas for mosquitoes that exist in the county and beyond. This is accomplished by spraying larvicides that kill the immature larval form of the mosquito that thrives in standing water that is not completely drained. Constant testing of samples collected from these areas with mosquito traps determines which sites may harbor mosquitoes that test positive for carrying the WNV.
The best way for seniors and others to protect themselves from WNV is to follow the “4 D’s”:
Dusk/Dawn are the times of day when mosquitoes are most likely to bite; stay indoors during these periods.
Dress in long sleeves and pants when outside. Spray thin clothing with insect repellent as an added precaution.
DEET is an ingredient to look for in insect repellent; wear repellent that contains up to 20 percent DEET when outdoors. Ironically, 80 percent of people who have had WNV said they did not use insect repellent.
Drain any water that is standing. This can be in the backyard, fountains, birdbaths, flowerpots, ponds…all can be mosquito breeding grounds.
Keep checking the news for updates on neighborhoods that test positive for West Nile Virus, spray locations and the latest areas that have confirmed cases.