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West Nile Virus: Recent Surge in Cases Sparks Concern in Texas

Categories: Disease Outbreak, General, Vectorborne

Texas state flagWest Nile virus season is off to an early start this year, which doesn’t bode well for what’s to come. Most West Nile virus exposures in the United States occur from July through October, with a peak during the first two weeks of August. Peak season in Texas is under way, and there are already 336 cases of West Nile illnesses, including 14 deaths reported as of August 13, making this the largest outbreak of West Nile virus in Texas since 2003. The virus has been appearing in many parts of the country, but almost half of the cases are in Texas and the numbers are rising.

Bruce Clements, Director of Community Preparedness at the Texas Department of State Health Services, tells CDC that Texas is currently seeing more than three times as many cases than previously seen in Texas since 2003. “Texas is on track to have the worst year ever for West Nile virus infections,” Clements said. “Assuming normal disease progression, we will outpace 2003, our worst year in terms of the number of cases.”

What is West Nile virus and how do you get it?

up close picture of a mosquito biting a humanWest Nile virus was first isolated in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda in 1937. The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York City. Today, we know that mosquitoes get the virus from birds they bite and the virus is spread to humans from mosquito bites. 

Roughly one in five infected people get sick when infected with the virus. Most people who do get sick from the virus experience flu-like symptoms that generally last a few days, although some people report having the illness last for several weeks or longer. Others who get the virus and become ill may develop the more severe form of West Nile virus disease, called West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease (WNND).   People who develop WNND may experience headaches, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis.  Although rare, about 10% of people with WNND will die.  Of the 336 human cases reported in Texas so far, 200 are the more severe cases. 

Not every mosquito carries the virus, and about 80% of people who are infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms at all.  Still, this virus has made a strong comeback, so precautions should be taken.  Awareness and personal protection can be a big step toward reducing your chance of getting infected.

Fight the Bite

Woman wearing long pants and long sleeves while she waters plants in a garden

Wear long pants and long sleeves to avoid mosquito bites

The best way to protect yourself from West Nile virus is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. Here are some tips:

- Use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient when you’re outdoors and always follow the package directions

- Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or if possible, consider staying indoors during these hours

- Keep mosquitoes out of your home by making sure you have good screens on your windows and doors

- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace bird baths weekly.  Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used

 For more information on West Nile virus, click here.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. August 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm ET  -   diane diamond

    another help will be to please stop killing spiders. Spiders kill loads of mosquitoes and I think thats what is helping too many mosquitoes spread this disease. many people think they have to kill spiders. but you dont. most house spiders are not dangerous. let them have their webs .they are natural mosquito control. !!

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  2. August 16, 2012 at 5:40 pm ET  -   Dayna Bennett

    I contracted West Nile back in August of 2003 and was hospitalized with viral menangitis. I have very little memory of being ill. I basically slept for three months. Today, I am still having issues with it. When the weather is very hot, I feel like I have it again. I don’t get as sick as I did in 2003, but I have fatigue and flu-like symptoms. I contacted the CDC in 2004 to find out if there was anything I could do, if West Nile is like other mosquito-borne diseases. I was told no and that it was “all in my head.” Recently, I have read research that West Nile is like other diseases, in that it stays in your system and you have flare ups. I also talked to a neurologist recently who told me that my temporal lobes are damaged because of West Nile. I have memory loss that interferes with my everyday life. I think it’s important that more research be done on this serious illness.

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  3. August 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm ET  -   brenda beck

    I just retired as a nurse in new jersey in June. Tues.night ,8-14-12, i was experiencing cold or allergy symptoms along with a mild stiff neck. by Wednsdaay morning my neck pain was becoming intolerable. i was also experiencing chills and profuse sweating. i just chalked it up to a cold. by nightfall the pain had spread to the base of my skull, ihas no range of motion in my neck. thurs. 8-16 I could no longer touch the backof my head and was unable to walk steadally due to the severe

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  4. August 22, 2012 at 10:32 am ET  -   ibrahim osman mohammed arabi

    public health officer in sudan (vector control ) Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. avoite the breeding site

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  5. August 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm ET  -   Laura DeGhionno

    Dayna Bennett….I am having the SAME problems!! I got WNV/Meningitis Aug. 2009…I haven’t been the same since the fatigue, sore muscles, eye sight, headaches,stiff neck, seem to be REALLY activated in the warmer weather. I agree that they SHOULD do more research on this illness. The media/government (in my opinion) play it down…If I hear one more “NEWS REPORT” that says you don’t even know you have it….Well that’s a WHOLE other Issue!! They haven’t studied those of us that were SERIOUSLY ill, so how can our Dr’s down play what we are telling them?? I have always been in Great physical and Mental shape but not after falling ill with this disease. If it can KILL a horse (which by the way they DO have a VACCINE for !!) What the heck do you think it can do to Humans?? The H1N1 Flu was Bad that year(2009) Free Shots to the Public…My Doctor Refused to give me the shot..He told me that if the HEALTH DEPARTMENT wanted to give it to me so be it They too Refused to give it to me AND why BECAUSE they were affraid of what might happen to me BECAUSE of the West Niles Meningitis!!! They MUST KNOW that there ARE long term (if not lifetime) effects for those of us with the meningitis…BUT to admit means it would cost $$ for research new drugs and disability claims. They also down play the numbers and % of people who get it to other diseases BUT take into consideration the SMALLER WINDOW of being Exposed to it and I GUARANTEE this disease SHOULD NOT be taken LIGHTLY.

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  6. August 29, 2012 at 11:55 am ET  -   Mel

    I have a mild case of West Nile. There should be a place to report it- I agree that not everyone is going to see a physician for mild symptoms-and there are probably a lot of people that don’t realize they do have it. My symptoms include: head-ache over entire head (which feels like brain swelling) for which I have been on Advil for several days. I also bought Zyflamed which is available at health food stores-it is an anti-inflamatory made by New Chapter. Slight nausea, mood is a little affected, slightly irritatable and intermittant brain issues-that is the scariest part. My symptoms have gotten better over last few days-I think I had it for almost 2 weeks already.

    I also have been trying to boost my immune system with Echnichea, Ginger, Green-tea, Tumeric and Rosemary-the later is the main ingredient in Zyflamed. Good Luck everyone-I wish you a good recovery

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  7. August 30, 2012 at 1:32 am ET  -   Ann

    thanks

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  8. August 30, 2012 at 1:33 am ET  -   paul

    thanks

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  9. August 30, 2012 at 9:09 am ET  -   Scott T.

    Mel-
    I believe that Zyflmend (spelling) and garlic could be helpful, but for more serious cases a prescription might be needed, and for many people it is not like an ordinary flu virus in which chicken soup and rest will be enough.

    However there are many questions I have such as: Are you immune to getting it again after the first exposure? What are the side effect of the prescriptions that are being given? Why do some people have a high fever or different symptoms than others? Does Advil or other painkillers limit the body’s natural defense to kill the virus completely?
    I thank everyone for sharing their stories as it will help to shed some light on areas for future research.

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  10. September 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm ET  -   Kris Adair

    My cousin, Paul has just been diagnosed with West Nile, Palmer Texas and he is receiving almost NO hard information from the medical professionals on this matter! When he asks about the timeframe for this to run its course the answers are non informative and inconclusive! He is
    Dizzy, tired, unable to walk without assistance due to depth perception issues….the lack of information is astounding. Any information as this point would be appreciated!

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  11. September 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm ET  -   Mel

    Kris,
    Sorry to hear about your cousin- I wish him a speedy recovery. I just wanted to let you know that its been 31/2 weeks and I am almost back to normal, but I am still having some trouble sleeping, irritable, depressed and still have a slight headache and queasy. I don’t know if I will have permanent brain damage, but it seems like I have been very lucky.

    I feel for everyone out there as you can see the symptoms and longevity of this virus vary considerably and I was told there is no cure-however, just using my own common sense-I decided to take Advil to reduce swelling and to drink water, and try to counter the effects by taking garlic, Vitamin C and other home remedies.

    I’m sure the CDC is trying to understand it, but I think they could do more to help people report their symptoms and make informed choices on the options for medication, and also to follow their progress to see the recovery time. My guess is that many people never went to the doctor-so the number of cases is probably higher than reported.

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  12. AUTHOR COMMENT September 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm ET  -   Blog Administrator

    @Kris: Sorry your cousin is having a hard time getting information. You can get more information on West Nile Virus from http://www.cdc.gov/features/StopMosquitoes/. However, we encourage anyone who thinks they may have the virus to speak to their primary care physician. Hope this helps, Thank you.

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  13. AUTHOR COMMENT September 7, 2012 at 9:14 am ET  -   Blog Administrator

    @Scott: Thanks for your questions! There are no known effective treatments for West Nile. The course of West Nile is highly variable, so it’s difficult to determine if any treatment works in the absence of a controlled clinical trial. We know of no person who has gotten West Nile twice, so we believe that immunity after the first infection is lifelong. Can’t say what the side effects of prescriptions being given are without knowing what was given. We don’t know why some people have little or no symptoms and others become quite ill. Persons who develop severe neurologic disease are more likely to be older; have diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease; or are taking immunosuppressing drugs, such as chemotherapy.

    Thank you,

    Lyle R Petersen, MD, MPH
    Director
    Division of Vector-Borne Diseases

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  14. September 17, 2012 at 11:31 am ET  -   Liz

    I have had the WNV since 8/20/2012. It has been a month and I am not feeling that much better. I started with headaches then came the rash. The first week I was so sick that I could barely get out of bed. When I went to the doctor they told me I had food poisoning. I told them that I thought I had WNV, so my doctor decided to test me just in case. It took 7 days to get the preliminary results and two more weeks until it was confirmed. I am very frustrated with the lack of knowledge by the doctors. They just keep telling me to rest and let my body fight the virus. I am really scared that it is doing something to my brain. I can feel it inside me…. in my nervous system. Before this, I was very healthy… no medical problems at all.
    I am sure I got the virus in Yuba county, yet when I looked it up it says no cases have been reported from Yuba county. I live in Sacramento county so maybe they have included me in those numbers… either way I do NOT trust the numbers they are reporting.

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  15. September 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm ET  -   Grammy

    I got bitten by a mosquito yesterday (9/21/2012) , I had one to one and a half lines from it that looked like lines from blood poisoning does that mean WNV I have never had a bite do that before. Thanks

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  16. September 27, 2012 at 9:05 pm ET  -   Mark

    What specifically is the CDC doing to PREVENT this disease other than say stuff like use DEET and don’t go outside when mosquitoes are most active? Is there a federal program or trigger point at which this Nation starts to direct and FUND aerial spraying? Why do people have to die in great numbers for people to get excited about this nationwide problem. The CDC stands for the Center for Disease CONTROL…it’s time the CDC start exercsing some control by destroying the killers that are killing and sickening people. The next thing that will happen is malaria,yellow fever or dengue fever. Its high time we start directing aerial and ground level spraying and fogging. We should also consider DDT in limited areas to control these killers. Yes, I said DDT. People are more important than animals including eagles. Americans should not have to worry if their children are safe outside because of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes kill and sicken more people in the world than any other cause; bar none.

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  17. September 28, 2012 at 11:51 am ET  -   Mark

    How many people die of mosquito borne illness per year in the United States. How many simply get sick, e.g seek treatment at a hospital/clinic etc?

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  18. October 2, 2012 at 10:18 am ET  -   Bryce No Spleen!

    I contracted west nile in late May, 2012 while working in LA. I had all the symptoms of west nile fever. I now get head aches contantly, with ringing in my ears. (when not on pain meds) At the begining of may 2012 I had an anoying tickle in the back of my neck, and night sweats. I ran out of my pain meds on Sept. 22, 2012, and my body was tingley. The worst part of what I was feeling was a tingle or tickle in the back of my head/neck. This was very anoying and made me want to go crazy. I am 24 years old and have no spleen due to a bike wreck. When first diagnosed the west nile part of my blood was 4.1 and is now a 4.22. could this be west nile? I went to a nurologist on Sept. 28th, and was checked out and told that the symptoms that I was having were most likely not due to or related to the west nile virus. He then suggested an MRI. Yesterday the 1st of Oct. I was turned down for an MRI, because my bill is getting to high at the local clinic. Unless I pay $210/month the financial part of the hospital is not going to allow any more tests to be done (They say that it is non emergant). I don’t understand how they can do that when people have long term symptoms or even die. I had a good job with insurance before all this came about, but made to much money last year (I have allways been a hard and succesfull worker, and in good physical shape even without a spleen) to qualify for their financial assistance program. My wife and 2 month old son and I have been turned down for medicade, and have eshausted all savings. Lucky for us my grandparents opened their home to us, but that is soon to run out (Im sensing). What is a person to do then, or what would I have done without them in the first place because I sertainly couldn’t and still can’t sustain a job. Sure seems that people think that I’m lying. I can’t stand this crap!

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  19. October 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm ET  -   jha

    I’m 42, female, good health. Was in an area recently where the health department sent notices out saying west Nile encephalitis was confirmed in the area. This was two weekends ago. I was tested for west Nile today at doc’s office– flu test came out negative. At first I thought I had a stomach virus– diarrhea, nausea. Then the fatigue kicked in. Been sleeping 15-18 hours a day. Exhausted. Chills. Bad bad chills. Can’t eat… Smell of food makes me nauseous. Back and hips hurt. Can’t even sit up much.. Have to lie down. Lights bother me.. Need quiet. Most of the time wen awake I just sit and stare at walls. It is comforting. I’ve never been perfectly happy to stare at a wall. I’m frustrated because I can’t find much information how this progresses… For instance, how long did people have the milder symptoms before getting the brain swelling? Or does the brain swelling happen right away? All I keep reading is most people who have the virus don’t know it. I call BS on that– must be old information. Today, the headaches started… Behind the eyes and then to the back of the head. The doc’s office said results should be back next week. If I have west Nile, this SUCKS. It isn’t MILD. Up until last week I worked out with a trainer 3 days a week and did yoga 2 days a week and now I am lying on my back staring at a wall. CDC, please give us MORE information for people who DO have symptoms!!! thank you.

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  20. October 23, 2012 at 12:54 am ET  -   Ss

    Previously healthy female, age 54. Officially diagnosed with WNV in Oklahoma near the end of a six week unexplained illness. I thought I had a really bad case of flu in early June due to five days of 102 fever followed by weeks of headache, nausea, diarrhea, extreme muscle fatigue, and an unnatural irritability to visual and auditory stimuli. I finally went to my physician after signicant weight loss and erupting in a large, blotchy rash on my arms and legs. A blood test confirmed WNV. MY case was reported to our city Heath department per protocol, and I was interviewed by an Epidemiologist by phone regarding my symptoms, exposure location, etc. Although my appetite never fully recovered, I was feeling back to normal for at least a month,until last week, when I experienced five days of muscle fatigue, neck and headache, severe nausea and an oddly familiar mental fog. The doctors have said that WNV does not “flare up”. I don’t agree and I think there will be more anecdotal stories like mine.

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  21. October 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm ET  -   MzTmOnA

    I was diagnosed with WNV in Sept 2005. First symptoms were body aches and slight fever. Within 24 hours it was severe aches…mostly in neck, shoulders and back…and terrible headache. I went to the Dr. after having symptoms for about 36 hrs and he ordered blood work for testing for Mono and then for WNV. At that time WNV testing had to be sent out and took a minimum of 5 days for a result. The immediate results were positive for Mono which was weird because I’d been tested a year or two earlier with negative results and I’d never had symptoms. In another 24 hours (2 1/2 days) I experienced serious weakness and began to break out everywhere in tiny, prickly little red dots (they didn’t itch; I could just feel when one was going to appear). At the thought that I might actually have Mono (without a sore throat, mind you), I immediately started a regime of extreme homeopathic antiviral treatment in order to try to “flush” the virus from my system. I drank a MINIMUM of one quart of water EVERY hour; and I took the following six to ten times per day: 500 mg of time released Ester C, 600 mg Kyolic Garlic and 250 mg Olive Leaf Extract. I also drank hot green tea (when I wasn’t drinking water!) and when I could stand to eat, made toast with light butter and fresh crushed garlic. Needless to say I wreaked of garlic, but because the initial diagnoses was that I had mono, I didn’t have to worry about visitors! At the 5 day mark, sure enough…the Dr.’s office called with a positive diagnosis of WNV. By that time, even though I was still pretty weak, most of symptoms were much less acute and the rash had disappeared. (I had talked to other people who said it was a month before they felt much better, so I think my anti-viral/water flush regime must have done some good!) About a month later I received a phone call from my County Health Dept. to ask about my illness and how I was recovering. I was still experiencing some weakness at that time, but felt like I had beaten the thing. They were very interested in how I treated the virus homeopathically. (Evidently at that time, a positive diagnosis was new enough in my area that the Colorado Health Depts were monitoring all reported cases. I’m not sure they still do that.) I’ve always wondered if I could contract the virus again; most sources say no. BUT…I about once every year or two I DO have flare ups that feel like I’ve got it again. They don’t last but a day or two, but it’s just awful. I’d really like to know for sure if it IS possible to have flare-ups or get it again. My thoughts and prayers are with anyone else who gets this big nasty…NO FUN at all!

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