News Release

June 21, 2004

HDHHS RECOMMENDS PRECAUTIONS AGAINST WEST NILE VIRUS

As the peak of the mosquito season approaches, the Houston Department of Health and Human Services HDHHS reminds residents to take precautions against West Nile Virus.

"We are heading into the time of the year when it is most crucial for people to protect themselves against mosquito bites and come together as a community to reduce mosquito breeding grounds," said Raouf Arafat, Chief of HDHHS’ Bureau of Epidemiology and acting assistant director, Communicable Disease Division.

The first human cases of West Nile infection reported by HDHHS in each of the two previous mosquito seasons occurred in July. Since 2002, the first year the disease emerged locally, HDHHS has confirmed the highest number of human West Nile cases in August and September. That year, HDHHS reported 26 cases in August and 37 in September and in 2003, 27 cases were reported in August and 14 in September.

Locally this year, mosquitoes – which become vectors of the virus after feeding on infected birds – first tested positive for the virus in early June.

Human cases of West Nile virus during the 2003 mosquito season, locally spanning from May to October, totaled 45, slightly less than half the 97 cases — 78 confirmed and 20 probable — that HDHHS reported during the same period in 2002.

The death toll resulting from West Nile virus infection totaled three in 2003 and five in 2002.

West Nile virus infection in severe cases can develop into encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain. However, most people infected with the virus experience mild illness characterized by flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, body aches and occasionally skin rash and swollen lymph glands.

Severe infections can cause high fever, headache, stiff neck disorientation coma, tremors muscle weakness and paralysis. Symptoms usually develop three to 15 days after infection with the virus.

Although the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at highest risk of severe illness, the virus poses a risk to all residents.

Houstonians are strongly recommended to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, especially from dusk to dawn.
  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET. Children should use insect repellents that contain less than 10 percent DEET. Do not apply DEET on babies. Adults should use insect repellents that contain more than 10 percent DEET.
  • Keep the storm sewers clean to reduce mosquito breeding:

  • Sweep up lawn clippings, leaves and limbs from sidewalks, driveways, curbs and gutters.
  • Don’t let lawn water or car washing water enter the street.
  • Pick up litter and other debris from your yard and the street.
  • Keep the mosquitoes out of your house:

  • Keep doors and windows closed.
  • Seal cracks and gaps in the house.
  • If mosquitoes are in the house, use flying insect spray, following label instructions.
  • Other actions to prevent mosquito breeding:
  • Empty, remove or dispose of anything in the yard that can hold water: flower pot saucers, cans, toys, litter, rain barrels, plastic sheeting, etc.
  • Pet water bowls and birdbaths should be emptied and refilled at least twice a week.
  • Keep the rain gutters on you house clean and properly draining.
  • Repair household water leaks, move air conditioner drain hose frequently.
  • Report water and sewer main leaks and breaks to 311.
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