AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Travis County resident has died after getting sick from West Nile virus. It marks 2023’s first reported death from the virus in the county, according to Austin Public Health.
APH said the Environmental Health Services Division has identified 26 positive pools of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus this year in 12 zip codes: 78702, 78703, 78704, 78721, 78722, 78723, 78727, 78741, 78751, 78754, 78757 and 78759.
“We are sad to report the first death of the year from West Nile virus in Travis County,” said APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. “This death is a stark reminder that West Nile virus poses a serious risk, especially to older people and those with weakened immune systems. We’re seeing an uptick in mosquito breeding due to the recent rains and cooler weather in Texas, we should all take precautions to ‘Fight the Bite.’”
More positive pools
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in mosquito activity,” said Heather Cooks-Sinclair, Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit manager for Austin Public Health.
Austin’s Rodent and Vector Program sets up traps – or pools – to attract the mosquitos, capture them and then test them for diseases at a Department of State Health Services laboratory. This year, the program has seen 26 pools positive for West Nile Virus (WNV) compared to only six last year.
The virus prevalence varies. In 2019, there were no positive mosquito pools or human cases of WNV in Travis County, while in 2012, there was a large outbreak across the country. Six Travis County residents died of the virus that year.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Entomologist Wizzie Brown said the number of mosquitos vectoring WVW comes down to what the mosquitoes eat and the weather.
“It’s all about where they’re picking up blood meals and what those animals are carrying,” Brown said. “Mosquitoes [could] happen to be finding those magical animals that are caring [West Nile Virus],” she continued.
She said birds can carry WNV, and many species are migrating through Central Texas, potentially increasing the positives.
“It’s possible that with those increased numbers of birds in the area – especially with the rainfall – it’s like the perfect storm,” Brown said.
West Nile prevention
Mosquitoes are present in Central Texas year-round, but the population is largest and most active from May through November. During this period, the APH Environmental Vector Control Unit monitors the mosquito population. Although mosquitoes were quiet this summer due to dry conditions, recent rains have brought them back to life, increasing the risk of contracting mosquito-borne infections for people across the state.
Know the dangers and fight the bite with the “four Ds”:
- Drain standing water: Mosquitoes breed in standing water and need as little as one teaspoon of water. Emptying water that accumulates in toys, tires, trash cans, buckets, clogged rain gutters and plant pots will eliminate places for mosquitoes to lay eggs and reproduce.
- Dusk to dawn: Although different species of mosquitoes are active at different times of day, the Culex mosquito 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 repellant: Use an EPA-registered repellent such as those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or 2-undecanone. Apply on both exposed skin and clothing.
Signs and symptoms
West Nile virus is commonly spread through mosquito bites and is not spread through coughing, sneezing or touching infected people or animals. It is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Approximately one in five people infected with West Nile virus develop symptoms such as:
- Body aches
- Joint pains
Of those infected, few can develop serious illness affecting the central nervous system. People over 60 years of age, persons with medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease, and immunocompromised individuals, such as organ transplant recipients, are at greater risk of developing serious disease.
For more information on the West Nile virus, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/WestNile.