A West Nile warning

It’s back. The first case of West Nile virus in Texas this year has surfaced 80 miles to the north, in Travis County, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported last week.

West Nile is a mosquito-borne infection. And experts say the best protection for you and your family is to use insect repellent outdoors, and to drain standing water where mosquitoes can breed, including buckets, flowerpots, birdbaths — even old tires.

“West Nile virus infections generally occur in the late summer to early fall,” said Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor of medicine at UT Health Science Center San Antonio, and director of hospital epidemiology at University Health System. “Fortunately, most people who become infected have no symptoms, and only a very small percentage of people with symptoms have serious illness.  However, there is currently no vaccine and no treatment for this infection so it is important to take appropriate precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

In Texas last year, 183 cases and 14 deaths from West Nile were reported. And although Bexar County had no official cases in 2013, in 2012 there were 31 West Nile cases and two deaths.

The milder form, West Nile fever, can cause headaches, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. West Nile neuroinvasive disease, a more serious form, also can include neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

And while the vast majority of people infected with the virus have no symptoms, those over 50 years of age or those with chronic health problems have a higher risk of serious illness or death.

State health officials recommend these steps to reduce the risk of West Nile infection:

  • Use an approved insect repellent according to instructions on the label. EPA-approved repellents contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products.
  • Regularly drain standing water. Mosquitoes that spread West Nile breed in stagnant water.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants and dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Use air conditioning or make sure screens  are on doors and windows to keep out mosquitoes.

Photo courtesy National Library of Medicine