Austin Public Health (APH) is urging the community to be aware of mosquito-borne diseases this summer. Already by mid-August, our Environmental and Vector Control Program has identified 14 positive pools of West Nile Virus in Travis County and our Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit has reported two probable neuroinvasive human cases.
Most people who are infected with West Nile Virus will not have any type of illness. It is estimated that 20% of the people who become infected will develop fever with mild, flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. Individuals over 50 years of age are at a higher risk for severe disease, which may include stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, vision loss, and paralysis.
“While COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we need to remember the many other diseases that are commonly present in our community, including West Nile Virus,” said Janet Pichette, APH Chief Epidemiologist.
West Nile Virus is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the United States and is typically spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. West Nile Virus is not spread through coughing or sneezing, or by touching live animals.
It has been a few years since a significant West Nile Virus outbreak. Last year, Travis County went without any positive pools or human cases of West Nile Virus. However, in 2012 there was a large outbreak of West Nile Virus nationwide with 5,674 human cases across the United States, 1,868 human cases in Texas, and 153 human cases and six deaths in Travis County.
Mosquitoes are present in Central Texas year-round, but the population is largest and most active from May through November. During this period, the Environmental and Vector Control Program monitors the mosquito population and tests for mosquito-borne viruses in partnership with the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“You have the power to prevent and protect your loved ones from West Nile Virus by draining standing water, limiting time spent outdoors, and wearing appropriate clothing and DEET when outdoors,” said Don Hastings, APH Environmental Health Services Assistant Director.
The most effective way to prevent West Nile Virus is to reduce the number of mosquitoes where people work and play. Mosquitoes can only breed in standing water and need as little as one teaspoon of water. By draining all sources of standing water in and around your property, you reduce the number of places mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
Fight the Bite Day and Night with the Four Ds:
- Dusk through dawn: Although different species of mosquitoes are active at different times of day, the species that spreads West Nile Virus is most active between dusk and dawn.
- Dress: Wear pants and long sleeves when you are outside. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; mosquito repellent clothing is also available.
- DEET: Apply insect repellent that contains DEET. Read and follow label instructions. Spray both exposed skin and clothing with repellent.
- Drain: Get rid of standing water in your yard and neighborhood. Old tires, flowerpots, clogged rain gutters, birdbaths and wading pools can be breeding sites for mosquitoes.