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Home News West Nile Virus Cases in Humans and a Horse
David Morgan
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West Nile Virus Cases in Humans and a Horse

August 20, 2015 - Zoonotic Diseases - Awareness

State Encourages New Mexicans to Protect Themselves from Mosquito Bites

The New Mexico Department of Health announced today that a 75-year-old woman and a 60-year-old woman, both from Doña Ana County, and a 76-year-old man from Valencia County have been diagnosed with West Nile virus infection. All three are hospitalized with neuroinvasive disease, the more serious form of the illness. A horse from Valencia County has also been diagnosed with West Nile virus infection and is recovering.

“August and September are typically when we see the highest number of West Nile virus cases in both people and horses in New Mexico,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “However, the mosquito populations are very high this year because of the extensive rainfall in many areas of the state.”

To reduce the chances of a mosquito bite that can transmit West Nile virus, people should

  • Use an approved insect repellent every time they go outside and follow the instructions on the label. Among the EPA-approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus/para-menthane-diol
  • Regularly drain standing water, including water collecting in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus breed in stagnant water.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Use air conditioning or make sure there are screens on all doors and windows to keep mosquitoes from entering the home.

“Up to 80 percent of people who contract the virus don’t get symptoms and won’t even know they have it,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department’s public health veterinarian. “But those who do get sick can experience very serious effects ranging from fever to substantial neurological symptoms and even death.”

Symptoms of the milder form of illness, West Nile fever, can include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. People with West Nile fever typically recover on their own, although symptoms may last for weeks to months. Symptoms of West Nile neuroinvasive disease can include those of West Nile fever plus neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis and around 10% of neuroinvasive cases are fatal.

There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile virus infection. People over 50 years old and those with other health issues are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying when they become infected with the virus. If people have symptoms and suspect West Nile virus infection, they should contact their healthcare provider.

In April, a 12-year-old girl from Valencia County was diagnosed with West Nile virus infection. She was hospitalized with neuroinvasive disease, the more serious form of the illness, but recovered. In 2014, the New Mexico Department of Health identified 24 cases of West Nile Virus infection in people with one fatality. Five horses were diagnosed with West Nile virus infection in 2014. Four of the five had to be euthanized due to the seriousness of their illness.

To further protect yourself against West Nile virus, you can minimize the risk for both human and horse cases of West Nile virus by eliminating water-holding containers where mosquitoes lay their eggs, such as old tires, as well as regularly changing the water in birdbaths, wading pools, and pets’ water bowls.  Make sure rain barrels are tightly screened.

To protect your horse against West Nile virus:

  • Consult your veterinarian to ensure the current West Nile virus vaccination status of your horse. 
  • Routinely apply horse-specific insect repellant on your horses.
  • Minimize horse exposure to mosquitoes during peak mosquito feeding periods at dawn and dusk.

For more information about how to protect against West Nile virus, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, visit the West Nile Virus section of our website.

Media Contact

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Casos de Virus del Nilo Occidental en Seres Humanos y en un Caballo