As cases of West Nile diminish, so does threat

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by Jeremy Desel/ KHOU

khou.com

Posted on July 3, 2012 at 5:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 3 at 5:26 PM

HOUSTON--In the Houston area so far this year, there have been two human cases of West Nile virus. That’s in the news because in rare cases, the virus can kill.

But the truth is West Nile Virus is nothing close to the threat that it was when it first showed up here a decade ago.

Reshelle Perkins has noticed the high numbers of the little biters this summer. "When you first walk out in the grass, you get all those little pop up mosquitoes," she said.

"It is worse already. We were in the backyard just for an hour and got bit up by mosquitoes," says Houston resident Demetria Robinson.

For more than a decade the mosquito-borne disease West Nile virus has been a huge focus of health officials, but West Nile is on the way out. In fact, it’s hardly a factor.

"Every once in a while we will see a little spike in cases and that could have something to do with the weather," says Kathy Barton of the City of Houston Health Department.

West Nile was first noted in New York in 1999 and made its big entrance here in 2002.

There were 70 cases in the City of Houston that year and nothing close to that since.

"It creeps down and down and down," says Barton of the statistics.

In 2003, there were 34 cases. In 2005, 18 cases. In 2007, 8 cases and in 2009 there were only 2 cases.

"We would expect that most people have had some exposure by now. We have a lot of people who are immune," Barton says.

That’s because they have had the West Nile virus and had no idea.

Most people under 55 can have the disease with no symptoms at all, and most other cases are very mild.

Demetria Robinson had no idea. "The symptoms are just like the cold or the flu. You would never think oh I got West Nile. Just a cold."

You keep the anti-bodies to fight the virus even if you had a case so minor you didn’t even notice.

The most vulnerable to the disease are people over 55 or with weak immune systems.

West Nile won’t go away completely.

"There are always going to be people in our community that are unprotected that have no immunity and you don’t know if it is you. So you need to continue to protect yourself," Barton says.

It is important to note that there are more than 100 diseases that are carried by mosquitoes—some of them are deadly..

The big question for health officials is not West Nile, but which other disease will be the next major issue.

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