A Dallas man who lived near downtown is this year’s first West Nile virus fatality in Texas, and most likely in the country.
Dallas health officials are warning this season could be the worst since West Nile made an appearance in 2002.
Sixteen human West Nile cases are also reported in Tarrant County; nine in Denton County; two in Collin. Dallas County officials expect confirmation this week from the Centers for Disease Control that the death is this year’s first West Nile fatality in the U.S.
The mosquito-transmitted illness comes in two forms: a less severe West Nile fever, and a form that affects the nervous system and the brain. Fourteen of Dallas County’s 16 human cases are the more serious strain.
The first West Nile death was a man in his 60’s with an existing medical condition. He lived in the zip code that covers Uptown and the Ross Avenue/Haskell area near downtown.
Dr. James Luby is with UT Southwestern Medical Center.
“People that we’re seeing, severe neuroinvasive disease, are elderly persons; persons with underlying disease the immuno-suppress them; people who have received transplants like a kidney. They’re immuno-suppressed patients and they get exposed to the virus,” he said.
Dr. Luby said there’s no question there will be more cases – at least as many as six years ago, when there were 104 cases and four deaths.
“For instance, in 2010 and 2011, we had two cases. So this is epidemic level.”
Dallas County Medical Director Dr. Christopher Perkins says West Nile creates flu-like symptoms, headache, fatigue, aching and in severe cases memory loss and paralysis. He said moderate symptoms last three to four days and most people recover.
“So if you have symptoms that are lingering, seven, eight, ten days and you feel really wiped out, fatigued etc., then seek out medical care.”
Dallas County Health Director Zack Thompson said it’s extremely important to wear insect repellant, wear long sleeves and long pants if outside at dusk and dawn, and drain all standing water where mosquitoes may breed. He said prevention is the most effective way to slow down the rate of new cases.