Area clinic treating West Nile patients

Darrell Todd Maurina

Muleshoe Area Medical Center says it now has three confirmed cases of West Nile virus and a dozen cases under investigation. In response, Muleshoe doctors urge residents to seek medical evaluation for persistent headaches and other flu-like symptoms.
Dr. Joe Garrett, an epidemiologist with the Texas Department of Public Health, said his office hadn’t yet received the Muleshoe reports. However, the Muleshoe numbers would make Bailey County the heaviest-hit county in the Texas Panhandle other than Lubbock, according to his statewide statistics.
“Lubbock County and the South Plains area has had a significant number of cases, seven human cases so far,” Garrett said.
Dr. Bruce Purdy, medical staff director and lab director at the Muleshoe hospital, said two of the confirmed West Nile cases were inpatients and one was an outpatient case. Of the two inpatients, one has been already released.
Of the remaining dozen unconfirmed cases, most are doing well but one had to be transferred for further treatment, he said.
“We had to transfer because he developed an encephalopathy, and the test is not yet back but we’re quite confident it is West Nile,” Purdy said. “He had confusion and severe headache.”
Purdy said one problem is that West Nile symptoms of headaches and body aches mirror the flu.
“The first ones that came in we thought were flu,” Purdy said. “They didn’t get better, we did some tests, and some of them came back positive.”
Purdy said the key defense strategy is to stay away from mosquitoes.
“If you avoid mosquitoes you are going to avoid the illness,” Purdy said. “Eliminate standing water, high weeds and things like that.”
Muleshoe officials said they’re trying to do just that.
“We’re spraying some now,” said Muleshoe City Manager David Brunson. “We’re mowing where we have some high weeds. We’re treating standing water with larvacide. We’re trying to be aggressive and proactive in our spraying.”
There have been no confirmed cases of humans contracting the West Nile virus in Curry or Roosevelt counties, according to the office of epidemiology at the New Mexico Department of Health, but there have been eight confirmed human cases and 81 horse cases in New Mexico.
One of those horses was in Curry and one in Roosevelt County.
Clovis City Manager Ray Mondragon said he didn’t know about the Muleshoe outbreak.
“That certainly causes a concern for me as city manager, but I can assure the people of Clovis that we are on top of it,” Mondragon said. “I will confer first thing in the morning to see what we can do. Certainly if it is this close we need to be concerned about it.”
Mondragon said the city has been paying overtime to run three mosquito spraying trucks and putting larvacide into the playa lakes, not only in the city but also in the county, and urged Clovis residents to get rid of any standing water.
“One thing that helps is it hasn’t rained,” Mondragon said.
In rare cases, West Nile infections can lead to death and no specific treatment has yet been developed for the disease, according to the Texas Department of Public Health. The department reports that less than 1 percent of those bitten by infected mosquitoes become severely ill; as of July 31, two infected people have died in Texas.