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Earlier this morning, Hidalgo County leaders held a press conference to address the first confirmed case of the West Nile virus in the County. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez, Emergency Management Coordinator Oscar Montoya, Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Fire Chief Shawn Snider, Dr. Smith of DSHS, and other leaders were on-hand to speak to the media about preventative measures and actions the public can take to protect themselves against the virus.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness. In Texas this year, there have been a total of 1,066 cases of human illness due to West Nile virus, with a total of 43 fatalities (as of 8/30/2012). The virus is endemic in the bird population and spread only by mosquitos who then transfer the virus from birds to humans.
County leaders have been closely monitoring the West Nile activity as the case counts climbed this summer, meeting regularly with state and local health and emergency management officials to develop a regional vector task force for the entire South Texas Region. Prior to today’s confirmation, the regional team had been working primarily on preventive measures, including vector control and chemical spraying, keeping the local medical community abreast of developments, and educating and informing the public on personal preparedness.
“We have been proactive in preparing for this event for weeks and don't consider it an emergency situation,” said County Judge Ramon Garcia. “County officials and partners are ramping up our efforts to ensure the health and safety of our residents,” continued Garcia. "Our message is for residents to be vigilant and proactive in protecting themselves and their families against the virus," Garcia said.
“We have a coordinated, regional action plan in place, and are working to take control of this event,” remarked Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez. “The public is encouraged to take measures to help prevent the possibility of infection from this disease,” continued Olivarez.
There are precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile. The best defense to West Nile virus is to practice these habits, known as the “Four Ds”:1) Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.2) Dress in long sleeves and long pants when you are outside.3) Stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.4) Drain standing water where mosquitoes breed. Common breeding sites include old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters.
People over 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they become infected with the virus. Up to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have no symptoms and will recover on their own, however, some cases can cause serious illness or death.
Those who become infected will have mild symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and occasionally a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile neuroinvasive disease) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Only about one out of 150 people infected with West Nile virus will develop this more severe form of the disease.
The public is encouraged to contact the Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department at (956) 383-622, should they have any questions or need information about spraying services.
Please remember to use precaution between the hours of dusk and dawn and to spray repellent if you will be outside, or use long-sleeve clothing.