Texas doctors prepare for potentially deadly West Nile season


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE


Posted on May 27, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Updated Monday, May 27 at 10:18 PM

AUSTIN -- West Nile virus killed 89 people in Texas last year. Statistics from the State Department of Health and Human Services indicate that's far and away the most deaths since it started tracking the virus in 2002. 

Coming off a wet and mild winter, doctors say this year could be just as bad.

Three-year-old Isabella is among the kids enjoying creative time on the Creative Playscape in Georgetown. Her mom and dad, Michelle and Matthew Calabrisi watch nearby.

"We consider ourselves pretty good parents," said Michelle.

Good enough to notice our summer-like temperatures along with the rain and mild winter have combined to produce the ideal conditions for mosquitoes and West Nile virus.

"We remember when it came out a couple of years ago, so we read up on it," said Matthew.

"Considering how much it's been raining lately, we need to be a little bit more cautious," said Michelle.  "There is lots of standing water in various places."

"We're still a little early for the traditional West Nile season," said Jeff Jarvis, M.D., Emergency Medicine at Scott & White in Round Rock.

Jarvis says people infected with West Nile virus can be affected in different ways. In fact 80 percent will be asymptomatic.

"They won't have any symptoms at all," said Jarvis. "Not even flu like symptoms."

He says most of the remaining 20 percent will feel a little like they have the flu. However, Jarvis says about one percent of patients infected with the virus develop severe or life-threatening symptoms such as meningitis or encephalitis.

"Infection around the brain or the fluid that coats the brain," said Jarvis. "Those will present much different than the normal, run of the mill, flu-like symptoms."

He says confusion, such as having trouble walking straight or forming words, could all be signs of severe West Nile infection. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services says the same precautions taken to avoid exposure hold true when it comes to West Nile prevention. It recommends the 4D's:

  • Deet - use insect repellent containing this ingredient.
  • 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 - drain standing water from around your home. Mosquitoes can breed in bird baths, flowerpots or rain gutters.

"I feel like we know enough about it to be prepared and know what's going on and know what to look for," said Michelle. "If it was to arise in our family we would know what to do and be a little bit more prepared."

Doctor Jarvis says unlike a traditional flu, which is contagious, one person cannot contract West Nile from another in that sense. However, if a mosquito bites an infected person, that mosquito can then infect other humans it bites. 

Click here to learn more on how you can take precautions against contracting the West Nile virus.


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