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Health expert concerned West Nile fever may be mislabeled as coronavirus

There are no human cases of West Nile virus in Travis or Williamson Counties yet. Eighty percent of cases are asymptomatic.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — The scene of the coronavirus pandemic are easy to spot: empty parks, playground equipment closed, people wearing masks. 

As of the past week, the signs of West Nile virus will become easy to spot, too.

Williamson County's Vector Management Program had signs placed around Southwest Williamson County Regional Park after a pool of mosquitoes tested positive for West Nile on July 9. According to Vector Management Program Lead Jason Fritz, pools can contain anywhere from one mosquito to 50 mosquitoes.

"It's surprising to get one this early, but it's 2020 so nothing is really a surprise nowadays," Fritz said.

According to Texas Department of State Health Services, hundreds of people test positive for either West Nile Fever or West Nile Encephalitis

In 2019, there were only 32 total cases of either of those conditions. From 2014 through 2018, 57 people died from complications due to the virus. Data from DSHS and referenced by Fritz said 80% of people who test positive for the virus are asymptomatic. The other 20% show any host of symptoms that are flu-like, which concerns Fritz because those same symptoms may look like COVID-19.

"They have a mild fever, maybe joint pain, occasionally a skin rash," Fritz said. "Fever and body aches can be similar to COVID-19 symptoms. I do worry a little bit about it being overlooked in the medical community because the first thought is COVID-19 nowadays and people may not think they had exposure or had a mosquito bite in the last two weeks."

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Fritz said it takes anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks for symptoms, if any, to develop. He's hoping there aren't any cases in people yet, but he's expecting to see at least a handful over the coming days.

To best protect yourself, Austin Public Health recommends treating or getting rid of standing water, which acts as a breeding and feeding ground for mosquitos. 

In addition, dress appropriately and consider avoiding the outdoors near dawn and dusk, which is a mosquito's favorite time to eat. APH also recommends wearing insect repellent.

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