Learn how to lower your risk of contracting West Nile virus and when to seek medical attention

As the summer winds down, Central Texas residents are savoring the last few weeks of outdoor fun. But, while we’re feasting on watermelon and barbecue, mosquitoes are feasting on us. And that means an increased risk of contracting West Nile Virus.

With the combination a mild winter, rain and hot temperatures, the environment has provided the ideal conditions for mosquito expansion. And experts say there is likely to be more West Nile Virus cases before the end of the fall.

The state of Texas has seen more cases of West Nile Virus this year than any other year since the virus first emerged in the state in 2002. The virus has already claimed one life in Bell County and 23 statewide. But there are ways to reduce your risk.

Scott & White infectious disease specialist, John Midturi, DO, MPH explains how to keep your family safe and when your symptoms need medical attention.

What are the signs and symptoms of the virus?

People infected with West Nile Virus can be affected in different ways. Most commonly people are asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms at all and the virus goes away on its own.

About 20 percent of people will have mild, flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle aches, diarrhea), which is actually considered West Nile Fever.

It’s only about one percent of those infected with the virus that have severe or life-threatening symptoms, which can include meningitis-like symptoms (stiff neck, severe headache, altered mental status). This form of the virus is called West Nile neuropathic disease or West Nile polio encephalitis, and could even cause paralysis.

What treatments are available?

“Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for [West Nile Virus],” Dr. Midturi said. “So, if you’re relatively healthy and you think that you were potentially exposed and you have muscle aches, then you should let it run its course. You should be feeling better in a week or two.”

But if you are experiencing a severe headache, confusion or altered mental status, then it might be a good idea to seek medical attention.

How can WNV be prevented?

“To reduce your risk of contracting the virus you should use insecticides, make sure your screened doors and windows are in good, working order, limit outdoor activity between dawn and dusk and remove all standing water near your home.”

It’s also important to follow the “four Ds,” according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

  • DEET – use insect repellant containing this ingredient, as well as picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Dress – make sure to wear long sleeves and long pants while outdoors.
  • Dusk and Dawn – avoid being outside between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Drain – remove and drain standing water from around your home. Mosquitoes can breed in bird baths, flowerpots or rain gutters.

And if you see any dead birds near your home, dispose of them properly by placing the bird in a trash bag, using gloves, and throw it away.

What do birds have to with West Nile Virus?

“One of the manifestations that was discovered back in 1999 in New York was that they first started seeing a lot of dead birds,” Dr. Midturi said. “Then they started having more human cases. So, the prevalence of the virus is determined by looking at the bird population.”

By first feeding on a bird carrying the West Nile Virus and then on a human, the virus is transmitted between species.

“We’re definitely seeing more cases than past years,” the infectious disease specialist said. “So, we need to continue to be vigilant through September.”

For more information on West Nile Virus and how to protect your family, visit the Texas Department of State Health Services’ site.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Learn how to lower your risk of contracting West Nile virus and when to seek medical attention