Tips to protect yourself from West Nile virus

June 29, 2012 4:56:06 PM PDT
West Nile virus is back. The health department says it has diagnosed the first case of the disease in humans this year. And, with the recent rain, mosquitos that could be carrying the virus may be hanging around. But you can protect yourself.

"What neighborhoods can do is avoid problems like this, where you have debris and then it ends up in the drainage system, and that's where you have mosquitos breed," Houston Health and Human Services Department spokesman Porfirio Villarreal said.

That's because the mosquito that likes to breed in standing water is the Culex, the one famous for carrying viruses like West Nile.

These are not the big aggressive mosquitos that follow you around. These Culex, disease-carrying mosquitos are little. They like the cool so they'll bite you in the morning or the evening. And they'll follow you in your house and bite you when you're sleeping.

Houston's Health and Human Services Department says when you're outside, you need to wear repellant.

"You want it to have DEET and you want it to have -- for adults -- a concentration of 10 percent or more; for children, 10 percent or less is fine. For infants, you never want to spray those babies with insect repellant. That's a no-no," Villarreal said.

The first woman to have West Nile virus this year is between 55 and 74 years old and lives in northeast Houston. She is hospitalized.

West Nile symptoms include headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, tremors, seizures and coma.

"Some of the time it will be very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all but it can be very serious and can develop into meningitis or encephalitis," Villarreal said.

And people are getting the message to be careful of West Nile virus. In 2002, the first year the city of Houston kept statistics, 70 people got West Nile virus. In 2010, it dropped to 13. Last year, there were six West Nile cases. One has been reported so far in 2012.

"Every year, we get less and less but we still have to protect ourselves," Villarreal said.

That's because you never know if the mosquito that bites you happens to be infected.

Don't forget to dump standing water in pet dishes, toys and bird baths. That reduces the places where Culex mosquitos can lay their eggs.


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