The Lubbock Health Department reported its first human case of West Nile for 2016 on Tuesday.
Though it is late in the year for mosquitoes to be out, as long as there is some mosquito activity people risk the chance of encountering them, Katherine Wells, Lubbock Health Department director, said. Therefore, people should still take general precautions, such as wearing mosquito repellents, wearing long-sleeve shirts and not going out during peak mosquito hours.
“We typically see West Nile cases every summer, and this one is kind of unique because we usually see it much earlier,” Wells said. “This time we’re seeing it later in the season.”
The virus is typically spread by the bird population, so when they migrate into an area, they infect the mosquito population, Wells said. In its research, the department saw some mosquitoes that tested positive for the virus a few weeks ago.
Though there have been a lot of cases reported in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas, this is the first human case in Lubbock, she said.
“I think we’ve actually did well this year in that we haven’t seen any cases,” Wells said. “I was expecting to see some, so I think mosquito control has been good, people have probably been listening to the messages with all of the information out there about Zika, and people have probably been better about wearing mosquito repellent and trying to avoid the mosquito bites.”
When fall comes into full fruition and the weather starts to cool down, the mosquito population will begin to decrease, she said.
An important thing to keep in mind about the virus, Wells said, is it cannot be transmitted from person to person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, there has been a significantly smaller number of times when humans transmitted the virus to other humans from blood transfusions; organ transplants; laboratory settings; and from a mother to a child during pregnancy, delivery and breast feeding.
Most of the time in cases of West Nile, those infected do not realize they have the virus and go about just fine, Dr. Mark Lacy, associate professor of internal medicine at the Health Sciences Center, said.
“Most people with West Nile tend to have less upper respiratory symptoms that are not always but frequently associated with influenza,” Lacy said. “The other thing is, sometimes West Nile Virus is associated with rashes, which is somewhat uncommon with influenza.”
There is no definitive set of symptoms one exhibits when infected, Lacy said. However, when it comes down to the statistics, around 80 percent of people are asymptomatic, meaning they exhibit no symptoms or even think they have a sickness.
The healthier they are, the less likely a person is to suffer from the virus, he said.
“Twenty percent will become ill, but only a small number of those will have a severe illness, maybe one out of 150,” Lacy said. “So it’s less than 1 percent are going to have a severe disease.”
Certain hosts and populations run the risk of being severely affected, but for the majority of the population, there is not much risk, Lacy said. Overall, the key to minimize the chances of being infected from a virus is maintaining healthy habits.“There’s always going to be emerging pathogens because of the world we live in, and so now we’re facing the specter of having chikungunya virus and Zika virus and things like that, which are also mosquito-borne illnesses, entering our region,” Lacy said. “I think this is just a reminder that we are not an invincible species. We are not in control of everything as much as we think we are, despite having so much power in our finger tips.”