Precaution, Not Alarm Best Practice for West Nile Virus August 17, 2012

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"Officials in Dallas County, Texas began aerial spraying of insecticides overnight Thursday to combat the worst outbreak of West Nile virus in the nation this year, and one of the worst outbreaks since the virus was first identified in the United States in 1999," reported HealthDay News.

Dallas County has recorded 10 deaths and hundreds of cases of the mosquito-borne illness so far, while Texas overall has seen 465 cases and 17 deaths, according to state statistics. This is putting 2012 "on track to be the worst year ever for West Nile virus," said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The GoodHealth encyclopedia explains that most people who have West Nile have no symptoms. Or the symptoms may be so mild that people may not even realize that they have the virus. In rare cases, West Nile can lead to swelling of the brain (encephalitis), swelling of the spinal cord (myelitis), or swelling of the tissues around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). But very few people with West Nile will get a severe illness that affects the brain or spinal cord.

What are the symptoms?

About 80 out of 100 people who have West Nile have no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they begin 3 to 14 days after the mosquito bite. Mild symptoms include:

  • A fever.
  • Headaches, body aches, or pain in your eyes.
  • A rash, usually on the chest, back, and arms.
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Not feeling hungry.
  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up.
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes), in rare cases.

In mild cases of West Nile, symptoms usually last for three to six days. If you get a more severe case of West Nile, symptoms can last for weeks or months. Severe cases that involve problems with the brain and spinal cord are rare, but they may cause:

  • Headaches.
  • A high fever.
  • A stiff neck or paralysis.
  • Confusion.
  • Reduced attention to surroundings.
  • Tremors, convulsions, or muscle weakness.
  • A coma.
Learn more about West Nile Virus on the GoodHealth encyclopedia.

Abundant rainfall after a mild winter created ideal conditions for the spread of the mosquito population.

According to the City of Austin's Health and Human Services Department, mosquitoes are present in Central Texas year-round, but the population is largest and most active from April through September. During this period, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department monitors the population and tests for mosquito-borne viruses. Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus (WNV) are of particular concern.

Travis County has seen a total of 73 mosquito pools testing positive for WNV as of Aug. 10, 2012 - the highest number of positive pools detected since surveillance activities began in 2003.

The health department has been actively working with community partners to increase awareness about the situation and promote preventive practices that can decrease transmission of the virus. An alert was sent to the Travis County Medical Society to remind physicians of West Nile virus symptoms that patients might present, and tips have been provided through an Austin Energy utility bill insert, news releases, media interviews, web postings and other social media vehicles.

The CDC recommends the following steps to protect yourself:

  • Use insect repellents when outside.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants from dawn to dusk.
  • Don't leave standing water outside in open containers, such as flowerpots, buckets and kiddie pools.
  • Install or repair windows and door screens.
  • Use air conditioning when possible.
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