West Nile Virus Making Way To East Texas

East Texans are preparing for the West Nile Virus after two cases were confirmed in Dallas yesterday. With a large mosquito crop, authorities say it's not if, but when the virus will be discovered in East Texas. The virus is dangerous to animals, and can be harmful to humans as well. The virus was first found in America in New York in 1999, and has made it's way westward since then.

Smith and Gregg County authorities have been testing for over a year, because they knew they would eventually find what they were searching for. Public Health Regional Director Paul McGaha explained "in the immediate East Texas area we have had no positives, but there have been positives in the Dallas area and Houston area and surrunding counties so it's only a matter of time before we detect it in East Texas. The serious disease can affect birds, horses, and humans, and is spread by mosquitoes. Experts say, however, the concern over humans contracting the disease may be overstated.

"There's a very low risk for human beings to come down with West Nile Virus," explains Caldwell Zoo veterinarian Karl Hill. "I can't say it's impossible, but it's very very rare."

Fewer than one percent of mosquitos carry the virus, and fewer than one percent of those bitten become ill. The disease is more like to affect older people, or people with compromised immune systems. McGaha explains, "The bottom line is, the risk for humans is extremely rare."

Even with a low chance of infection, experts advise you to take precautions because the disease will spread. Since the disease is transmitted by mosquitos, experts say the best way to reduce the risk of catching West Nile Virus is to reduce the chance of being bitten. Tips include using insect repellant, wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants when outside, and most importantly, removing standing water from around your home. According to McGaha, "It's only a matter of months before we detect it in Smith County and surrounding counties. It's probably here, it just hasn't been detected yet."