Mosquito-Borne Virus Starting to Appear
The good news: North Texas has seen a slow start to the West Nile virus season.
The not-so-good news: Dallas County’s first human case of the virus has been confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The good news again, if you can call it that, is that the West Nile case was a less-severe form of the infection. The patient reportedly had a high fever accompanied by a body and head ache.
“Most people who become infected with West Nile virus don’t experience any symptoms at all, but about 20 percent of people experience minor symptoms such as what’s been seen: fever and mild headache,” according to Robert Duhaney, M.D., of Internal Medicine of Addison, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “These symptoms generally go away on their own within a few days.”
“More serious symptoms such as a severe headache, disorientation, back pain or sudden weakness warrant an immediate trip to the doctor. In less than 1 percent of infected people, the virus causes a life-threatening neurological infection that includes inflammation of the brain,” Dr. Duhaney added.
What is Chikungunya?
New to the list of threats from mosquitoes is the chikungunya virus, characterized by an abrupt onset of fever frequently accompanied by joint pain. Other common signs and symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The joint pain can be very debilitating, but usually lasts for a few days to a few weeks. The good news here: most people recover fully.
Only recently has a domestically acquired case of the illness surfaced in the continental United States ― in the state of Florida. The Dallas Morning News reports that since 2006, the U.S. has averaged 28 imported cases of chikungunya per year in travelers infected elsewhere who return from Caribbean and other countries where the disease is rapidly spreading. The first Dallas County case was reported the week of July 20.
The chikungunya virus is not spread person to person but rather by the bite of certain mosquitoes, and there is currently no vaccine for it. That’s why health officials believe the virus is spreading to the U.S.
“From what we know of the disease, in order for the virus to be transmitted from an infected person to an uninfected mosquito then passed along, the person must be bitten within the first week of illness,” Dr. Duhaney said.
How to Protect Yourself against Mosquito Bites and Illness
Mosquitoes are a fact of life in North Texas, and exposure to mosquitoes where West Nile virus exists increases your risk of getting the infection. The newer threat of chikungunya adds another layer to the need for protection.
Dr. Duhaney offers these ways to protect against mosquito bites and to reduce the risk for mosquito-borne illness:
- Use mosquito repellent with a small amount of DEET
- Wear light-colored clothing that covers your skin
- Reduce standing water around your home to inhibit mosquitoes from breeding
- Avoid being outdoors in the evening to sunrise
- The best defense is always a good offense!
Learn more about West Nile and link to local resources at TexasHealth.org/West-Nile.
Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.