West Nile virus on the rise in East Texas, barely misses Walker County
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 01:09
Although there are no cases of the West Nile virus in Huntsville and Walker County recorded at this time, Sam Houston State University students’ hometowns surrounding Huntsville have been under siege.
There have been 20 fatalities recorded since Aug. 30 from counties Sam Houston State University students consider their hometowns. The total number of cases has catapulted to 1,013, of which 40 have resulted in death tying the state’s previous high.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness. Up to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus do not symptoms and will recover on their own; however, some cases can cause serious illness or death, according to the Texas Department of State Health Service’s website said.
The 20 hometown fatalities were in Harris County (3), Tarrant County (4) and Dallas County (13). Harris County accounts for nearly 34 percent of SHSU’s student enrollment for the past five years. Tarrant and Dallas counties combined make up almost 5 percent.
There have been 14 cases in Harris County, including three fatal cases, 209 cases in Tarrant County and 285 cases in Dallas County.
Dr. David L. Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said during a telephone news conference that the state’s 1,013 reported cases more than double the state’s previous high.
"Every county surrounding us has some sort of West Nile," said Butch Davis, Walker County Emergency Management Coordinator.
There are two types of West Nile virus. West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease (WNND) affects the brain and West Nile Fever (WNF), which is non-neuroinvasive.
"We’ve been lucky since it’s been pretty dry here lately," Davis said.
He advised that mosquitoes thrive in damp vegetation and standing water.
The Texas Department of State Health Service lists habits called the "Four D’s" to avoid mosquitoes and their bites:
1. DEET: use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
2. Dress: in long sleeves and pants when you’re outside.
3. Dusk & Dawn: stay indoors at these times since this is when mosquitoes are most active.
4. Drain: standing water where mosquitoes breed, including old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters.
"If a case of West Nile is recorded in Huntsville or Walker County we would do contract spraying," Davis said. "We’d have to outsource to start aerial spraying to kill some of the mosquitoes."
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Severe cases’ symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
The milder symptoms are found in about 20 percent of people infected with the virus. They include fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. These symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.