A serious form of infection caused by West Nile Virus has been confirmed in San Patricio County.
Called Neuroinvasive West Nile Disease (NWND), the infection occurs when West Nile virus infects the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system of a patient. This type of infection from the virus is considered rare but has a much higher chance of fatality or severe, sometimes permanent or long-lasting damage.
At time of writing, health officials in San Patricio County cannot rule out the possibility that the patient contracted the virus locally in our area, though they are not certain of where or how they became infected. What is known is that they are a resident of the area. Investigators are working to determine whether the patient had traveled elsewhere recently.
While officials can’t rule out infection in our area, they have confirmed that they virus had infected the patient’s brain, meaning that the infection is the neuroinvasive presentation of West Nile.
“They tested the cerebral spinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord, and they tested that to see if the antibodies were there,” according to Dr. James Mobley, Health Director for San Patricio County.
It was earlier Thursday morning when Dr. Mobley got a call confirming that a 75-year-old female patient had NWND. The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed that the patient is being treated at a Houston hospital, adding that they had verified the infection.
“It’s a lady who is 75 years old,” added Dr. Mobley. “She is a resident of this county, she’s pretty ill right now, and that’s all we know at this point.”
Mobley said that this case is the first neuroinvasive case of West Nile that San Patricio County has had so far. That’s concerning, with the Fourth of July weekend celebrations approaching.
“We’re very concerned, especially with the holiday weekend coming up,” said Dr. Mobley. “And all the rain that we’ve had, we’re going to have a very heavy mosquito burden so we really wanna let folks know that there’s a significant risk out there for mosquito bites at this point.”
Those most at risk for the illness are typically individuals over the age of 60, often with lung disease or diabetes; or young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system.
For the confirmed 75-year-old patient, Dr. Mobley said its too early to tell if she suffers from any pre-existing conditions that would have predisposed her to infection.
He adds a solemn but critical point about West Nile, saying, “There is no treatment for West Nile virus. There is no vaccine for West Nile Virus, so all we can do is supportive care. In this case, when you go into neuroinvasive disease, she will have had headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion and may have lapsed into a light coma.”
Officials say the patient faces a long recovery period, even under ideal circumstances. Dr. Mobley said she’ll likely suffer from chronic headaches and fatigue.
We’ll continue to follow this story, and are extensively looking into the presence and risk of NWND and West Nile in our area.