By Darrell Todd Maurina
West Nile has invaded the region full force, with new confirmed or suspected human cases reported in Curry, Roosevelt, Bailey, and Parmer counties.
Until mid-August, no human cases had been confirmed in the area, though a number of cases had been confirmed as early as last year in horses.
Although West Nile can lead to death, many of the cases reported so far are minor. In Parmer County, for example, none of the three confirmed victims even knew they were sick until they tried to donate blood and test results came back positive for the disease, officials said.
“They came in as blood donors and the blood bank picked it up at Coffee Memorial in Amarillo,” said Dr. Robert Alexander, the Parmer County Health Officer. “They’ve been screening pretty routinely now since (West Nile) can be transmitted by blood transfusions.”
Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis has also been treating suspected West Nile cases, though blood tests haven’t confirmed the disease and test results may not be ready for several weeks.
“So far what I have is there were three people hospitalized to rule out the West Nile virus, but it is still unconfirmed at this time,” said Kris Vigil, house supervisor at PRMC.
Vigil said all three of the patients in Clovis have returned home and their symptoms do not appear to be serious.
A patient at Roosevelt General Hospital wasn’t so lucky.
“We have had one confirmed West Nile case; we did get a report from our hospital and the patient was sent to Lubbock,” said Leslie Peterson, Roosevelt County public health nurse. Peterson had no information about any other suspected but so far unconfirmed cases in Roosevelt County.
Muleshoe continues to be the worst-hit in the area. Muleshoe Area Medical Center officials said on Aug. 14 their hospital had three confirmed cases of West Nile virus and a dozen cases under investigation; Muleshoe hospital officials did not return calls on Monday seeking current information.
Alexander said he expects the numbers to increase, not only in Parmer County but also in the region.
“The peak of the season is probably going to be in the fall, September or so,” Alexander said. “That’s when the peak has been in other states, and we expect it to be here, too.”
While the disease can be serious, Alexander said the public shouldn’t panic and most cases are mild.
“When it is serious it is almost always in the very old or the very young; healthy folks in the middle usually don’t get worse than flu-like symptoms,” Alexander said. “The main thing that would be helpful would be to take precautions such as wearing mosquito repellents and by eliminating places where mosquitoes breed.”