Many parents, especially here in North Texas, are worried about West Nile virus infections.
Texas is one of six states that have reported over 70% of the West Nile virus infections this year, which include:
- 1,590 total cases
- 889 neuroinvasive cases (including meningitis and encephalitis)
- 701 non-neuroinvasive cases
- 65 deaths
Although 48 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes, the majority of the cases in people have occurred in Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan. And since the number of cases is still rising, experts from the CDC predict that we may pass the epidemic numbers that we saw in 2002 and 2003 (about 3,000 cases each year).
Texas alone has seen 733 cases and 30 deaths, however, keep in mind that only 40 of those cases were in children and teens.
Since there is no vaccine or treatment for West Nile virus infections, to keep your kids and yourself safe, be sure to follow the Texas Department of State Health Services advice on the "Four Ds" of DEET, Dress, Dusk and Dawn, and Drain:
- spray exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of eucalyptus
- dress in loose, long sleeves and long pants if going outside when mosquitoes are active
- try to avoid going outside from dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active
- drain standing water around your home and in your neighborhood, so mosquitoes can't easily breed
Why are there so many West Nile virus cases this year, especially in North Texas? Experts still don't have an answer for that important question, but some think that it might be related to the recent drought, which was followed by a lot of heavy rain, and a mild winter.
Why isn't there a West Nile virus vaccine? Well, there is one - for horses. And there have been a few vaccines that have been successful in early phase one and two clinical trials. A larger phase three trail would be necessary to prove the vaccine was safe and effective though, which is hard to do with a disease that typically has a low incidence with widely dispersed cases.
Some good news is that many experts think that efforts to control mosquitoes have been effective, which should reduce the number of cases, and we have hopefully reached the peak of this year's West Nile virus epidemic. West Nile virus infections typically peak in mid- to late-August.