The Face of West Nile Virus

Julie Hauk of Lantana recently discovered some troubling news when she learned that her 66-year old mother had been diagnosed with West Nile virus.

Barbara Roberts, whom Hauk described as “very active,” and “like the Energizer Bunny,” reached the point during her convalescence where she could not get out of a chair without help, and Hauk agrees that serious steps need to be taken to curtail the spread of this disease.

There is no cure for West Nile and prevention is the only way to combat the problem.

The elderly and individuals with underlying medical conditions are known to be at an increased risk for West Nile. The majority of serious infections and deaths occur in persons over the age of 50.

“She’s starting to a do a little better,” Hauk said. “She’s moved from the hospital to the in-patient rehab.”

Hauk said her mother, who resides in Farmers Branch but spends a good deal of time in Lantana, became ill on Aug. 12 with a bad headache and fever, and eventually went to the doctor, where she was given an antibiotic.

“You can’t find out if it is West Nile right away,” Hauk said. “It’s got to go through an incubation that lasts five to seven days. They tested for flu and gave her a strep throat test, which both came back negative.”

Hauk said her doctor said all of the symptoms Roberts had sounded like West Nile, but because her blood specimen would have to be sent off, she was given the antibiotic in case it was not.

“She was staying with me, and by Wednesday [Aug. 15] evening, she could not get out of the chair or walk up the stairs,” Hauk said. “I called a friend of mine who lives in Lantana and works as a nurse at Presbyterian in Denton, and she told me to go and ask her some basic questions, like who is the president, and what day is today?

“She answered all those right, which was a relief, because West Nile can lead to permanent brain damage and paralysis.”

Hauk said she took her mother to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton, where she was given a Spinal Tap, an MRI and CAT Scan.

Fortunately, there was no neurological damage, but two days later, it was confirmed that she did have West Nile virus.

“The scary part about it is that you can be bitten anywhere from two to 15 days before you start seeing the symptoms,” Hauk said.

Roberts’ long-term prognosis points to a slow recovery.

“I think she will be released soon, but only to home health care. Not to live on her own or drive or go back to any kind of job.”

Denton County has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of West Nile virus cases per capita than any other county in the U.S. 

As of Aug. 29, there were 134 reported cases of West Nile disease in Denton County, and two residents had died.  A third death was reported in Nebraska after the patient returned from a visit to Denton County.

There are two different severities of West Nile virus; West Nile fever and the more serious West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease, according to Betsy Haggard from the Denton County Health Department.

Of the cases reported in Denton County, 96 were classified as West Nile fever and 38 patients were suffering from neuroinvasive disease.

At the urging of the Denton County Health Department, Denton County Judge Mary Horn filed a local disaster declaration with the state on Aug. 22 in order to get assistance from the Department of State Health Services to conduct aerial mosquito spraying.

“Aerial spraying is the most effective option,” said Dr. Bing Burton, director of the Denton County Health Department.  “I believe that is the best recommendation. We are dealing with an outbreak like we have never seen.”

Hauk said she was glad to hear that Denton County is moving ahead with aerial spraying.

“This is becoming a serious issue, and the only way to stop the spread is by killing the mosquitoes that carry the disease.”

The pesticide used in aerial spraying is very similar to the one employed in ground spraying and it has been declared safe for humans and pets by the Centers for Disease Control, county health officials said.

The chemical to be sprayed is called Duet, a combination of two pyrethroids; sumithrin and prallethrin. Pyrethroids are a class of synthetic pesticides similar to pyrethrins, which are naturally occurring in chrysanthemum flowers. They kill mosquitoes on contact and are usually broken down by sunlight and water in a short period of time after application.

Grady Barnard, owner of Mosquito Squad of southern Denton County, said besides the 4 D’s – DEET, Drain, avoid Dawn and Dusk outdoors, there are other things homeowners can do to protect themselves.

Some of his suggestions include keeping gutters clean and unclogged, aerating ornamental ponds to keep water moving or stock the pond with mosquito-eating fish, keeping swimming pools cleaned and chlorinated, mowing your lawn regularly, keeping weeds away from your home’s foundation, checking your window screens for holes, and replacing your outdoor lights with yellow “bug” lights to deter mosquitoes.

“While the county is doing what it can to help control the mosquito population, I think the citizens each need to take steps to protect their own property and get their neighbors involved which will give everyone more protection,” said Barnard.

He added that on average, the West Nile threat should naturally taper off by early October.

“Depending on the weather, there are about six more weeks of worry about West Nile for this season.”


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