West Nile Virus in Texas Kills One: What Are Symptoms of the Infection?

A man in Harris County, Texas, died last week after complications from the West Nile virus, the Houston Chronicle reported on Thursday.

Harris County health officials said on September 20 that a man between 45 and 54 years old died after contracting the mosquito-borne virus. The man had "underlying chronic health conditions," according to the Chronicle.

"We are devastated to report the first West Nile virus–associated death, and our hearts go out to the family," said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health. "It's also a reminder that West Nile can be serious and cause complications, including death."

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has recorded 45 cases of West Nile virus this year.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito lights on human skin. A man in Harris County, Texas, died last week after complications from West Nile virus, the Houston Chronicle reported on Thursday.  REUTERS/James Gathany/CDC/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

The virus has led to 35 deaths in the U.S. this year, as of September 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This count did not include the death in Texas—the second to occur in the state this year—or a fatality in New Jersey that NJ.com said occurred on September 15. West Nile led to 286 fatalities in 2012, the deadliest year for the virus in U.S. history.

More than 2,000 people reported getting sick from West Nile last year, according to the CDC. The agency has documented 1,077 known or probable cases this year. The virus has infected people, birds or mosquitoes in 47 states and the District of Columbia in 2018. Nebraska reported 133 cases, the most in the nation.

A color-coded map shows West Nile virus dispersion by state, as of September 18. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

Eighty percent of infected individuals do not display any symptoms. Approximately 20 percent develop symptoms such as headache, body ache or rash, and around one in 150 people infected contracts severe illnesses that affect the central nervous system. Possible acute responses include encephalitis or meningitis. Individuals with a severe illness from West Nile can also experience disorientation, coma, vision loss or paralysis.

People older than 60 and individuals with cancer, diabetes and kidney disease are particularly susceptible to developing severe illnesses after being infected with West Nile.

"There is no specific treatment for WNV infection," according to the CDC. "In more severe cases, people usually need to go to the hospital, where they can receive supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing, and nursing care."

The CDC recommends using Environmental Protection Agency–registered insect repellents to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, which might transmit the virus. The agency also suggests regularly pouring out and cleaning items that might hold standing water where the insects could lay their eggs.