Houstonians Should Take Precautions Against West Nile

August 28, 2012


West Nile is a real threat for seniors

As we approached Labor Day Weekend last summer, Texans were warily watching the wildfires covering much of our forests during one of our worst droughts in history.  As this summer closes, 2012 is on track for being the worst year for West Nile virus infections.

Nearly 700 cases of West Nile virus have been reported this year, with 26 deaths reported. Only three states: Alaska, Vermont and Hawaii have so far been spared.  Perhaps because of a warm winter and early summer temperatures with plenty of humidity, 2012 is on track to be the worst year yet for West Nile infections.

Texas has born the brunt of the attack, with 270 reported cases and 11 deaths in Dallas County alone – more than the combined total from 2003 through 2011.   Harris County reports 19 cases and three deaths.  With the very young, those over 50, and people with compromised immune systems at risk of life-threatening complications, what must you know to protect yourself and your family?

How West Nile Virus Spreads:

  • A mosquito bites an infected bird  and then bites you.
  • Blood transfusions,
  • Organ transplants and,
  • From breastfeeding mother to child.

The majority of those infected will never develop symptoms, and of those who do, only a small number (about 1 in 150) will require hospitalization.

What are the Symptoms of West Nile Virus?

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Muscle Aches
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Rash (in up to 50%) of cases
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat

The symptoms usually last from 3-6 days. More severe forms of the West Nile virus can be life-threatening. If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, make sure you seek medical attention immediately:

  • Stiff neck
  • Weakness of leg or arm
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fainting

Treatment and Complications

Because this virus is not caused by a bacteria, it cannot be treated by antibiotics, and there are no known cures. Hospitalization is required in severe cases in order to lower fever and reduce brain pressure, in an attempt to reduce the risks of:

  • Permanent muscle weakness
  • Brain Damage
  • Death

Prevent Infection by Preventing Bites

  • Remove mosquito breeding areas by draining stagnant water that may in trash bins or plant saucers.
  • Use bug spray with DEET in it.
  • Clean out clogged gutters regularly.
  • Stay indoors at the peak times of mosquito activity (dusk and dawn).

One more note of caution: Check with with the Center for Disease Control for instructions on reporting and disposing of a dead bird. If you need to pick up a dead bird, or local authorities tell you to simply dispose of it: Avoid bare-handed contact with any dead animals, and use gloves or an inverted plastic bag to place the bird carcass in a garbage bag and dispose of it with your routine trash. Make sure your elderly neighbors and your children follow the same precautions.

Do you know of anyone who has contracted West Nile Virus? What symptoms did they experience, and for how long?  Please share in the comments below.

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