Harris County reports Texas' first West Nile virus death of 2018

By Aaron Barker - Senior Web Editor, Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter

HOUSTON - Texas’ first death associated with the West Nile virus this year happened in Harris County, officials announced Thursday.

Officials at Harris County Public Health said the identity of the 45- to 54-year-old southwest Harris County man will remain confidential. They said he died earlier this month at a hospital in Harris County and had underlying chronic health conditions.

“We are devastated to report the first West Nile virus-associated death, and our hearts go out to the family,” said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of HCPH. “Mosquitoes can spread a variety of diseases, and those who are most vulnerable - children, aging and immunosuppressed individuals - are at a higher risk of dying of mosquito-borne diseases. We conduct mosquito surveillance year-round and actively work on protecting our residents from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, but we simply cannot do it alone. Continuously, we ask our residents to partner with us by reducing mosquito breeding sites and protect themselves from getting bitten by mosquitoes.”

Officials said six people in Harris County have contracted the virus this year, and 303 mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus.

“This year has been a very busy year,” said Mustapha Debboun, director for the Mosquito and Vector Control Division at Harris County Public Health.

He said their technicians have been trapping mosquitoes across the county all summer and testing the insects.

“We have about 306 West Nile-positive mosquito(es). Last summer (at) this time we only had 112, so you can see there was an increase of almost three times,” explained Debboun.

In areas where they’ve seen positive West Nile virus cases, they’ll spray in order to minimize the possibility of spreading the disease to a person.

Doctors said that about 1 in 5 people who are infected with the illness will develop symptoms, including headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. More severe symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, encephalitis or meningitis.

“The vast majority of people who get exposed to a mosquito with West Nile virus are not going to have any symptoms, or it will be mild in nature, almost like the flu,” said Shah.

He said young children, people over 60, pregnant women and people with a chronic illness are more likely to get sick, but everyone is at risk, which is why he suggests people take proactive measures before going outside.

West Nile virus season runs from June through October, officials said.

READ: What you need to know about mosquito protection

Symptoms of the virus include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Vision problems
  • Body tremors
  • Mental confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures

The Texas Department of State Health Services recommends practicing the "Four Ds":

  • DEET: Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Dress in long sleeves and long pants when you are outside.
  • Dusk/Dawn: Stay indoors at these times, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Drain standing water where mosquitoes breed. Common breeding sites include old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters.

Copyright 2018 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.