Warm, Wet Weather Heightens West Nile Concern in Texas
May 23, 2019
A mild winter, even by Texas standards, means public health officials are on guard for a possible increase in West Nile virus cases this year. Research shows that warmer winter temperatures are associated with more West Nile cases the following summer. Plus, heavy and widespread rain across Texas this spring has left behind standing water that provides mosquitoes ample breeding ground to multiply and spread their misery.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself now and throughout mosquito season:
- Keep mosquitoes from reproducing by regularly draining standing water, including water that collects in toys, tires, trash cans, buckets, clogged rain gutters and plant pots and saucers. Change the water in pet dishes, birdbaths and wading pools at least every two or three days.
- Prevent bites by using an approved insect repellent every time you go outside, according to the directions on the label. EPA-approved repellents include DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus/p-menthane-diol.
- Create a barrier by covering up with long sleeves and pants.
- Keep mosquitoes out by using air conditioning or ensuring all doors and windows have screens that are in good repair.
Taking these actions at home and while traveling will help protect against Zika, dengue and other illnesses spread by mosquitoes.
“Make fighting the bite a habit for you and the ones you love,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “These simple steps can go a long way toward protecting yourself and your family and neighbors from a potentially deadly infection.”
There were 146 cases of West Nile disease, including 11 deaths, in Texas last year according to DSHS provisional disease data. Over the last five years, Texas has had 1,305 cases and 57 deaths.
Most people exposed to West Nile virus don’t get sick, but about 20 percent develop symptoms like headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. In a very small share, less than one percent, the virus affects the nervous system, leading to a more serious illness that can cause neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and even death.
There’s no vaccine to prevent West Nile illness in people, and no medications to treat the infection. Some people may need to be hospitalized to treat the symptoms. West Nile virus can cause serious illness in people of any age, but those over 60 years old are at a greater risk, as are people with health conditions like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease. Anyone with symptoms who suspects West Nile virus should contact their health care provider.
(News Media Contact: Chris Van Deusen, DSHS Director of Media Relations, 512-776-7119)
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