West Nile threat at peak during summer months

By Casey Peacock: Freedom Newspapers

The number of West Nile cases in New Mexico has dropped steadily since the mosquito-borne disease was discovered in the state in 2003.

No cases have been reported yet this year, according to state health officials. However, summer is the prime time for West Nile, especially with this year’s unusually wet spring, officials warned.

“It’s an easy disease to prevent if you follow the prevention guidelines,” said Chris Minnick, regional public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Health.

Preventive measures include:
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants if possible when you are outdoors.
Draining sources of standing water.
Avoiding peak times — dawn, dusk and early evening
Using mosquito nets and repellents containing DEET.

In 2003, 209 cases of West Nile Virus were reported in New Mexico, and 33 in 2005, including one from Curry County, Minnick said.

Two state residents — one from Quay County — died in 2005 from contracting the virus.

A Roosevelt County resident was among the eight cases reported last year, when one death (in Dona Ana County) occurred, Minnick said.

“You can see it seems to be decreasing each year,” Minnick said.

Most people (four out of five) who contract the virus show no symptoms. The virus can cause high fever, headache, neck stiffness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

The virus is also common in horses.

In 2003 and 2004, the area saw an influx of the disease in horses. Those numbers have since dropped with few cases reported in 2005 and 2006.

In horses, the virus causes viral encephalitis. Symptoms can vary from mild to fatal.

Horses can be vaccinated against the virus, according to David J. Orton, Clovis veterinarian and owner of Clovis Equine Center.

“If horses haven’t been vaccinated, it’s good to do so. It’s (West Nile Virus) easy to prevent,” Orton said.