New Mexico public health official are warning of elevated concerns over a West Nile Virus (WNV) outbreak and a new incident of rabies involving school children. Both incidents are cause for concern and officials are advising residents of the state to be aware of the dangers that both diseases pose to the public.
Recent heavy rains have contributed to the rise in West Nile Virus cases this month, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. The number of WNV cases doubled since significant rains began falling in late September. Ten new cases have been reported in October, bringing the year's total WNV cases to 20. Two victims of WNV have died in New Mexico so far this year.
A New Mexico Department of Health official says while Aug. and Sept. are peak times for WNV, they warn that disease-carrying mosquitoes can survive until the first hard frost.
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In addition to the new human cases of the virus this month, a horse from Otero County has tested positive for the disease.
The latest 10 human victims have been identified from across the state. They include two residents of Lea County, two from San Juan County, two from Bernalillo County, two from Roosevelt County, one from Curry County and one from Quay County.
A Department of Health spokesman in Santa Fe says severe dry conditions across the state had minimized the dangers posed by the virus this year until statewide heavy rains and flooding in mid September. As pond and lake levels began to rise and standing water became a problem in both rural and urban areas, concerns over the virus have increased.
Among the latest 10 cases reported are five women ranging in age from 19 to 76 and four men ranging in age from 26 to 82. The last victim reported with the virus is a 15 year old boy.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease of the encephalitis group and was first detected in the U.S. in 1999.
"People infected may have some fever and body aches and they just won't feel well once infected with the virus," says Dr. Cedric Spak, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor Dallas Hospital. "Someone with the more simple form of the virus, or West Nile Fever, may miss a few days work or school but should recover quickly."
Neuroinvasie WNV more deadly
A second and more serious form of the virus, known as neuroinvasive West Nile Virus, can invade the central nervous system and may prove fatal. Symptoms for the neuroinvasive virus can include headaches and other flu-like symptoms, but Spak said a fever higher than 102 degrees and a sense of confusion or disorientation are key signs of the more serious strain of the virus and victims should seek immediate medical attention.
He advises homeowners, especially rural residents who own or stable horses, to take prevention measures designed to limit mosquito production. Standing water should be eliminated around houses and barns and standing ponds of water not used by livestock should be treated. He further advises avoiding early morning and early evening excursions outdoors when mosquitoes are most active and says wearing long pants and shirt sleeves can decrease the chances of exposure. He also advises using a repellant that contains Deet.
Health concern officials also are concerned over the report of six school children at an Albuquerque middle school being treated for rabies exposure after playing with a bat that was determined to be rabid after a teacher submitted the animal for testing.
Public health officials say the students did not exhibit bite marks but because the animal has such small teeth, a scratch or puncture may go undetected. The students have undergone the first series of vaccination for rabies exposure and must continue treatment as a precaution.
School officials sent warnings home to parents this week over concerns that other students may have handled the rabid bat. Rabies is a disease that if not detected early after exposure will result in death.
New Mexico was plagued by a rash of rabid animal cases last year but an aggressive anti-rabies program has helped diminish the risk so far this year. Officials are warning parents to instruct their children to avoid contact with wildlife and even unknown domestic animals.