AUSTIN (KXAN) - County health teams are getting an early start this year to combat rampant mosquitoes and the West Nile virus. They want to prevent an outbreak similar to last year.
Janna Garfolo, whose mother Judy contracted the virus last fall, said the recovery process has been long.
"It was a weekend and she started feeling weak, nauseous and little bit light headed," Garfolo said.
Just days later, Judy was having trouble walking and communicating. She fell while taking out the trash and had to be taken to the emergency room in an ambulance. It wasn't until the following weekend doctors diagnosed her as having virus.
"She was basically out of it," Garfolo said. "She couldn't communicate with us. Couldn't respond for us to squeeze a hand, move a muscle, and it took several weeks before she basically came back."
Judy spent 10 weeks in the hospital and her recovery is ongoing.
"She had to learn how to feed herself again, how to walk," Garfolo said. "All of her motor skills were affected."
Judy's case was one of 153 West Nile cases in Austin in 2012. Six people died from the virus. The numbers marked a big spike from previous years. Travis County reported no West Nile cases between 2009 and 2011.
Diagnosing the problem immediately can be difficult because around 80 percent of people with the virus show no symptoms.
"The 20 percent can get what is called West Nile Fever," said Dr. Phil Huang, medical director and health authority with the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services. "The symptoms are fever, headache, sometimes you get a rash and swelling lymph glands.
"The most severe form of the illness is the neuro-invasive disease, where it's less than 1 percent, but that's where in addition to the fever and headache you can get a stiff neck, some of the neurologic symptoms that could lead to coma and death."
This year, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department started monitoring mosquitoes early.
"We're also looking at areas where there is pooling water, assessing if there is mosquito larvae in those areas already," Huan said. "If appropriate, then we're applying larvicide, which kills the larvae as the mosquitoes are developing. We're monitoring for any human illness and tracking if there's any area in particular that seem to be hot spots."
The department has also put out a video that touts the 4 D's.
• Dusk & Dawn
They tips serve as a reminder to stay indoors at dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves and pants, wear bug spray that contains DEET and drain standing water.
Garfolo said her mom's story is proof that the advice is worth following.
"She's working on just being able to walk independently," Garfolo said. "She's still walking with a walker, working on getting her strength back."
Right now, the county's mosquito control efforts are focused on removing spots with standing water that can be breeding grounds. They're also encouraging the use of "mosquito dunks", a natural bacteria that can be used in rain barrels and ponds to kill mosquitoes.
Widespread spraying of pesticides is a rarely-used option to control mosquitoes.
They also encourage residents to report areas of standing water to 311. Health and Human Services will then send a crew out to investigate and educate.
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