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West Nile Virus was confirmed in Travis County, Texas on Thursday, July 3 according to a press release from the Texas Department of State Health Services. This is the first known case of the mosquito-borne virus reported in Texas this season.
West Nile Virus is a major health risk factor for people in the state of Texas. The Zoonosis Control Branch of the Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed the most recent case. Manager Tom Sidwa said in a statement to the press,“The best way to protect yourself is by using insect repellent every time you go outside,” adding, “West Nile virus can make people very sick, with symptoms that can last for weeks or months.” Sidwa is also the State Public Health Veterinarian.
There were 183 confirmed cases of the disease reported in the state of Texas in 2013. There were also 14 deaths reported among those 183 cases statewide. In 2012 confirmed cases in Texas reached epidemic proportions, with 3,603 reported cases, and 89 deaths.
West Nile Virus is an arbovirus, spread throughout the general population by infected mosquitos. The infected mosquitos acquire the disease from dead birds. The virus goes undetected in four out of five infected persons. West Nile Virus can cause meningitis and encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain and the surrounding brain tissue. Fully 99 percent of all infected persons will have no problems with the disease, and though rare, the other 1 percent may develop a very serious and sometimes fatal neurological illness.
There are no apparent symptoms in the majority of cases, but 20 percent or so do show symptoms that include headache, body aches and pain, joint pain, rash, vomiting, diarrhea and general fatigue and weakness.
West Nile Virus outbreaks have been observed in the Continental United States (the lower 48 states) since calendar year 1999. Construction workers and those that work out-of-doors are at increased risk for contracting the disease. However anyone that lives in an area where West Nile Virus is present may become infected with the virus.
The virus has an incubation period of between two and six days, with most people noticing symptoms anywhere between two and 14 days. There is no vaccine currently available to prevent West Nile Virus, and there are no current medications that can be used to treat it. People that become infected with the more severe symptoms of the disease may require hospital care, with intravenous fluids and pain medications being administered.
The best way to avoid contracting West Nile Virus is to stay indoors and use mosquito repellent when going outdoors. Wearing protective clothing such as long sleeves and long trousers will offer additional protection from mosquito bites. Over-the-counter medications may provide relief for the symptoms.
This first confirmed case of West Nile Virus in Travis County, Texas may be a harbinger of things to come. The Texas Department of State Health Services appears to be ready to provide aid and comfort, along with medical care and treatment for those infected by this terrible virus. Authorities hope that 2014 numbers do not reach or exceed 2012 levels.
By Jim Donahue