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Entries in West Nile Virus (11)

Thursday
Nov152012

"Survivor" Contestant Lisa Whelchel Has West Nile

Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Lisa Whelchel, the '80s actress battling it out on Survivor: Philippines, says she’s recovering from the West Nile virus.

“Dr. just called with blood test results,” she tweeted Tuesday. “I have West Nile. Ugh. I’m fine, just tired.”

Whelchel, 49, played Blair Warner on The Facts of Life, a 1980s sitcom about an all-girls boarding school in New York. After a 24-year hiatus, she returned to TV for the 25th season of Survivor, which finished filming in April and is currently airing.

It’s unclear when and where Whelchel contracted the mosquito-borne virus, which has infected 5,128 Americans so far this year and killed 229, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than one-third of the cases have been in Texas, where Whelchel lives, according to her Twitter account.

In August, Dallas launched an aerial attack on the virus, spraying the city from airplanes with mosquito-killing pesticides and raising concerns among residents.

“It’s a difficult issue because there’s a lot of sentiment people don’t want this, and there’s a fear of the unknown, but in some ways, it’s very simple,” Mayor Mike Rawlings told ABC News at the time. “When you are dealing with someone’s life, that should come first and foremost.”

Most people who become infected with the West Nile virus show no symptoms at all. But 20 percent of people infected develop West Nile fever, with symptoms including high temperature, headache, tiredness, body aches, and sometimes a rash and swollen lymph glands that can linger for several weeks, according to the CDC.

One in 150 people infected with the virus develops a severe form of the disease that invades the nervous system, causing convulsions, paralysis and coma. People older than 50, and those with compromised immune systems are more at risk, according to the CDC.

Whelchel, who is still in the running on Survivor: Philippines, said she expects to make a full recovery and thanked her Twitter followers for their good wishes.

“I’ve been very touched by all the sweet tweets,” she wrote on her Twitter account. “So grateful for you. Thanks!”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Sep172012

West Nile Virus: Fighting the Largest Outbreak in US History

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- Brandt Leondar is learning to walk again. A single mosquito bite infected with West Nile virus has ravaged his body and his mind.

But Leondar, a 51-year-old high school band director from Grapevine, Texas, wasn't even expected to survive, and his doctor prepared the family for the worst.

"I had talked to his wife candidly," said Dr. Cedric Spak, "I told her I'm not sure which way this is going to go."

Spak is a top expert in infectious diseases at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Nearly 100 victims of West Nile have been treated at Baylor this year, and Spak has watched as some of his own patients have died from the disease.

Spak admits he has few answers for those who have West Nile. "We are still unable to explain why some people get better, and others do not," he said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials announced in August that the recent outbreak of West Nile was the largest ever seen in the United States, and now it is on track to be the deadliest.

Carried by birds and mosquitoes, which have spread it across the entire country, the virus has sickened 30,000 people since it first showed up in the United States in 1999.

As of Sept. 11, there have been 2,636 cases and 118 deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so far this year. Texas has seen the worst of it, with 40 percent of the nation's West Nile cases in this one state.

Since there is no cure and no vaccine for West Nile, the best hope of slowing the outbreak may be inside a laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo. Researchers at the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases are working to track this mysterious disease.

Scientists sort mosquitoes gathered in the field by species and by sex, since only females bite humans. The bugs are ground up so that they can be tested for the virus, telling researchers how fast it is spreading, and where pesticides should be used and whether or not they are working.

When used correctly, the pesticides are highly effective at killing off mosquitoes. But aerial spraying in cities such as Dallas has led to a backlash from residents who worry that the spraying may be dangerous.

Dr. Lyle Petersen, the director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, is the man leading the government's battle against West Nile and maintains that spraying is safe.

"The EPA has looked at all of this, and has deemed these pesticides as being safe, Petersen told ABC's Dr. Richard Besser during a visit to the CDC lab in Fort Collins.

"We found no increased respiratory illness, or any other kind of illness," he said. "That's not unexpected, because the amount of pesticides used is often less than one ounce per acre. It's minuscule."

This is a battle that's personal for Petersen, who himself became a victim of West Nile a few years ago.

"I went out one day at dusk, no repellant, to get the mail. Three days later both my friend and I got West Nile," he said. "I mean, I'm a long distance runner and I could barely walk up the stairs for three months. It was a miserable experience."

Petersen said the best defense against West Nile is to apply insect repellent before heading out doors.

About 80 percent of those infected by a mosquito carrying West Nile will never know it -- they won't even get sick. About one in 150 will come down with the most severe form of West Nile, as the virus attacks the nervous system. Often the hardest hit victims are left with neurological damage that lasts a lifetime.

Joey Worley, 51, of Fairfield, Texas, narrowly escaped becoming another victim of the disease. Worley, a high school coach and marathon runner, said he began to feel flu-like symptoms after a family vacation to New Mexico. A few days later, his wife Renea called for an ambulance to take him to the emergency room. After five days in the hospital, Joey Worley was cleared to go home. His doctor said it appears he will not suffer permanent neurological damage from the disease.

Brandt Leondar is also recovering at home -- something his doctor said he never expected because of how severe his case was. Spak said it only adds to the mystery surrounding this disease.

"It is miraculous how [Brandt is] turning around," he said.

With so few answers from medical experts, Petersen warns West Nile is here to stay.

"There's no way to get rid of it at this point," he said. "People need to realize they're at risk, and I'm a good example of that."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep122012

West Nile Virus: Recognizing the Symptoms

Stockbyte/ThinkstockBy DR. RICHARD BESSER, ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor

(WASHINGTON) -- Dr. Lyle Petersen knows a lot about West Nile Virus. In his role as director of the group at the CDC that deals with mosquito-borne diseases, he is in charge of our nation’s efforts to understand and control this virus.  However, unlike most infectious disease experts, he also knows this virus personally; in 2003, Petersen became its victim.

He knew the importance of avoiding mosquito bites, especially at dawn and dusk when the females are most actively looking for blood meals.  He knew that he should remove the standing water from around his house that mosquitoes loved to lay eggs in. He knew that mosquito repellant and long sleeves were the way to go for prevention. He had been telling people what to do for years.

Yet one evening, he threw caution to the wind and went down the road to fetch his mail from the mailbox without covering up or using repellant.  While out, he ran into a running buddy and a two- minute trip stretched into a lot longer. Returning home, he didn’t think much of the few mosquito bites he had gotten. Three days went by.

Then it hit: fever, muscle aches, headache, eye pain, stiff neck and fatigue.  The fatigue was the worst of it.  Petersen, a marathon runner, had trouble climbing the stairs without getting short of breath. It was a full three months before he was back to normal.

Here are the basics in terms of infection.  Eighty percent of people who are infected will have no symptoms- none! Their bodies will fight it off without them ever knowing they were infected and they will be protected from future infection.  Around 20 percent will have flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen glands.  These usually last for weeks but can last much longer.  Dr. Petersen told me that once he had the disease, he stopped calling it “mild.”

The most severe form of West Nile virus is the neurologic form.  According to CDC it occurs in around 1 in 150 patients. In addition to the high fever and headache, these patients can have stiff neck, confusion, weakness, seizures, vision problems and paralysis.  This is the type of disease that can be fatal.

There is no treatment for West Nile virus infection and it is not spread person-to-person. If you have flu-like symptoms, rest up, drink plenty of fluids, and take something for the fever.  If you develop a severe headache, confusion, weakness or any of the other signs of neurologic disease, see your doctor right away.  Although there is no treatment to kill the virus, there are supportive measures that can be provided.

This is clearly a disease where prevention is critical. Pay attention to your health department and if there is West Nile virus activity in your community, do what you can to “Fight the Bite.”

Tune into ABC's World News and Nightline tonight to watch Dr. Richard Besser’s full report on West Nile and how it is affecting patients.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug292012

West Nile Virus Cases Hit 1,590; Death Toll at 66

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- Reports of West Nile virus infection in the country now total 1,590, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday -- an increase of more than 40 percent in one week alone.

CDC officials also reported during a Wednesday-afternoon teleconference that 66 people have died from the disease so far. Of all of the cases reported thus far, 889 -- or 56 percent -- are classified as neuroinvasive, meaning patients develop meningitis, encephalitis or paralysis.

These figures represent a striking increase from last week’s report of 1,118 cases, 629 of which were neuroinvasive, and 41 deaths.

Still, officials say they anticipated that these numbers would go up over time.

“This increase is not unexpected,” said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne infections diseases for the CDC, during the teleconference. “In fact, the total numbers will continue to rise through October.”

He also said that while the overall numbers will continue to accumulate throughout mosquito season, he expects the incidence of infections to have peaked in mid- to late August.  This peak may vary between northern and southern states.

CDC officials estimate that, based on current numbers, the final tally of overall U.S. cases will likely be similar to the number of cases seen in 2002 and 2003, during which time more than 3,000 cases of neuroinvasive West Nile virus and more than 260 deaths were reported.

While all 48 continental states have reported cases of West Nile infections, more than 70 percent of the reported cases are in Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Michigan.

Texas has been hardest hit, with 783 reported cases -- nearly half of the total number documented thus far.  The health department in Texas has been vigilant about preventing further infections through aerial spraying.

Since the CDC does not recommend routine testing of people with West Nile fever, it is likely that there are far more infections than the current numbers suggest. Approximately 80 percent of patients infected with West Nile virus will not develop any type of illness. The remaining 20 percent experience symptoms including fever, headache, malaise, body aches, and occasionally a rash or swollen lymph nodes.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile. The disease itself may run its course in as short as a few days or as long as several weeks.

The virus is most dangerous when it becomes neuroinvasive; in these cases, patients can experience symptoms as severe as coma, seizures, muscle weakness and paralysis. The CDC estimates that only about 1 in 150 people who contract West Nile virus will develop the neuroinvasive form, but nearly all of these patients will require hospitalization.

Of these, those with encephalitis are in the greatest danger, as they are frequently left with severe neurologic deficits. Ten percent of patients who develop encephalitis die. Of the patients who develop paralysis from the disease, one-third will recover nearly completely, one-third will be left with residual weakness, and one-third will not recover.

CDC officials said it is unlikely that Hurricane Isaac will play a role in the severity of the outbreak.

“Based on previous experience, floods and hurricanes do not result in increased transmission of West Nile virus,” said Petersen.  He notes that although there will likely be no noticeable effect on the current epidemic, a small increase had been noted in some areas of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, likely because of increased outdoor exposure when houses were severely damaged.

In light of the ongoing risk, the CDC encourages everyone to protect themselves from mosquitoes.  While many health departments have made mosquito-control efforts, such as aerial and ground spraying, people are encouraged to protect themselves from mosquito bites using basic techniques.

“Use insect repellents, wear long-sleeved clothing during dawn and dusk, install and repair window screens, use air conditioners when possible, empty standing water, and support local community mosquito control programs,” Peterson says.

There is currently no vaccine to protect humans from the West Nile virus, although four effective vaccinations exist for horses. A few of related vaccines are in early clinical trials (Phase I and II) in humans, which have been successful.  However, no vaccine has yet been taken to Phase III clinical trials.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug222012

West Nile Virus on Track for Worst Year Ever

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The West Nile virus outbreak that has infected people in 38 states is on track to be the worst in history, a top official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.

The CDC has recorded 1,118 infected people with 41 deaths, but health officials say they expect reported cases to rise dramatically. The disease generally peaks in mid-August, and the new infections generally take a couple of weeks to show up in the tally.

"Thus, we expect many more cases to occur," said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of the Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases at the CDC.

Petersen said the number of people infected has risen substantially in the past few weeks. Just one month ago, a mere 29 cases had been detected. As of Tuesday, he said, 47 states had reported indications of the virus in humans or animals; only Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont have so far been spared. Human cases have been detected in 38 states.

The total, he said, is the highest number of West Nile virus cases reported to the CDC by this time in the summer since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999. In short, this outbreak is on track to be the worst in the country's history.

The worst year on record is 2003, in which the country saw 9,862 cases of West Nile virus infection and 264 deaths.

He described more than half of these cases -- 56 percent -- as neuroinvasive, meaning the infection had spread to the brain in these patients.

While it is unclear why this year has been harder hit than others, many think it is possibly because of the weather.

"It is a very complicated ecological cycle," Petersen said. "Hot weather, we know from experiments in the laboratory, can increase the transmission of the virus."

It is possible that the mild winter and the hot summer also increase the number of mosquitoes, which spread the virus.

The health departments and blood banks are also making efforts to protect the blood supply. To date, the virus has been detected in the blood of 242 donors. Donated blood is routinely screened for West Nile virus.

Seventy-five percent of the cases have been reported from five states: Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Illinois. Texas appears to be the hardest hit, with 586 reported cases in total. The death toll so far in Texas is 21, but it appears that at least four additional deaths will soon be added to the total. Dallas County has been hardest hit, with a total of 270 cases and 11 deaths.

"We are talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose lives will be changed," said Dr. David L. Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. "Texas has really been the center of this outbreak."

The totals are creeping closer to the 2003 figures in Texas, which were the worst ever for the state. In that year, Texas recorded 438 cases and 40 deaths statewide.

There are several components to the Texas government's response. It has been coordinating with local health departments to obtain as much data as possible and track the areas hardest hit. Additionally, a new lab test to detect the virus has been implemented, allowing doctors to get an answer in two days while previous tests took 10.

Initially, they were using ground sprays to kill the mosquitoes harboring the virus, but aerial spraying has since been added to the strategy. "It would have been impossible for us to cover the county with land-based spray," Lakey said.

To prevent spread of the disease, the CDC encourages the public to use insect repellent, wear long sleeves, replace or repair screens on windows and doors, empty standing water and to support local mosquito control.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug172012

West Nile Virus Signs, Symptoms

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Dallas County, Texas, has been hit hard by West Nile, a potentially fatal mosquito-borne infection. This summer health officials have recorded 465 cases and 17 deaths, on pace for the worst year ever for West Nile.

And north Texas isn't the only place reporting a spike in West Nile cases. The United States is experiencing the biggest outbreak in West Nile virus since 2004, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials say it's difficult to get accurate numbers on West Nile infections because approximately 80 percent of people with West Nile virus have no idea they have it. Most never develop any symptoms.

According to CDC, up to 20 percent of infected people develop West Nile fever and exhibit mild symptoms including fever, headache, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting. They might also develop swollen lymph glands and a rash on the chest, back or stomach.

"Most of the time, the symptoms are nonspecific and may last for a few days or a few weeks," Dr. William Shaffner, chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, says. "Someone may just feel poorly and never associate it with West Nile."

Only about 1 percent are hit with a more serious form of the infection, West Nile encephalitis, characterized by high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Illness may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

Shaffner says people 65 and older are at greatest risk for contracting the more serious forms of the illness. Signs and symptoms typically develop between 3 and 14 days after someone is bitten by an infected mosquito.

West Nile Virus has no cure. You can only treat the symptoms and hope it goes away.

The best defense is prevention. The CDC offers the following tips to protect yourself:

  • Drain standing pools of dirty water that can collect in stagnant ponds, old tires and even empty soda bottles; this is where mosquitoes breed and lay their eggs.
  • Stay indoors during dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are most active.
  • To protect yourself indoors, make sure door and window screens are tight-fitting and in good repair.
  • To protect yourself outdoors, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks to cover as much of your body as possible and apply bug repellent.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug022012

US West Nile Virus Cases on the Rise, CDC Says

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Outbreaks of West Nile virus are on the rise this year, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people to protect themselves against infection.

So far, 241 cases have been reported nationwide with four deaths, according to the CDC. The outbreak is the most dramatic in seven years and seems to be striking earlier than normal.

West Nile virus transmission happens when people are bitten by infected mosquitoes. Symptoms can include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people in the U.S. are more likely to become infected between June and September, with infections peaking in mid-August. However, various factors including weather and human behavior can impact the number of cases that occur.

While most of the infections are in Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, cases of the virus have been reported in 42 states. In Ohio, a 48-year-old man has the first reported case there. Karen Butler, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health says he is recovering.
 
"He's doing a lot better and he is still receiving what we call supportive care, and what that does is help him in his recuperations," she said.
 
Though the CDC says there are no medications to treat, or vaccines to prevent, West Nile infection, Butler says prevention is still important. She suggests making sure things like backyard kiddie pools aren't left full of water.
 
"Get rid of mosquito breeding sites and particularly that includes anything that will support standing water," advised Butler.
 
She says if you're outdoors there are simple steps one can take to prevent West Nile infections.
 
"If you're outdoors we always recommend to use insect repellent. Particularly mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn. So be sure to use your insect repellent," Butler said, recommending that people wear long sleeves and pants when possible.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep142011

Asian Tiger Mosquito Spotted in Southern California

Aedes albopictus mosquito, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, feeding on human blood. This mosquito is known to transmit West Nile virus. Kallista Images/GettyImages(EL MONTE, Calif.) -- The Asian tiger mosquito, a rare and dangerous insect native to Southeast Asia, made an appearance in Southern California last week, prompting action from local pest controllers and health officials.

The mosquito, known for its black body and white stripes, is capable of carrying several viruses, including dengue fever, West Nile virus and yellow fever. It is smaller than most mosquitoes and bites during the day, not just at night, and already has a foothold in the U.S. Southeast.

While it is unclear how the Asian tiger mosquitoes arrived in Southern California, no one has become sick since spotting the bug in El Monte, Calif. The San Gabriel Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District plans to fog the area where the mosquito was found as early as Friday.

District officials are going door-to-door in El Monte to educate the public on how to they can assist in fixing the problem.

“We’ll be making the best effort to eliminate the mosquito,” said Kenn Fujioka, assistant manager of the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District. “It’s the risk to our public and the uncertainty how it will behave that concerns us.”

The Asian tiger mosquito made its first U.S. appearance when it surfaced in Houston in 1985 after being transported from Asia in old tires meant for recycling. The mosquitoes soon migrated to Florida, and now, more than two decades later, they can be found throughout much of the Southeast.

“People in other parts of the country aren’t able to eradicate the problem because the humid conditions are too favorable for the mosquito,” said Fujioka. “Southern California is too dry for them to take advantage of the environment so easily, so we have a better chance at fixing the problem.”

“The best way to control an area is to eliminate sources where larvae can develop,” said Fujioka.

Health officials urged residents to dump out any containers holding standing water, even very small amounts. The mosquito is known to lay eggs in small, water-filled holes like those in trees, asphalt and concrete. Dispose of any unused containers and tires stored outdoors and drill drain holes in the bottom of playground equipment. If residents in the area spot one of the bugs, officials recommend they call the agency.

“The bite will appear like any other bug bite,” said Fujioka. “If people are bitten by any type of mosquito and they develop headache, fever or rash five to seven days later, they should get in and see a doctor to rule out diseases transmitted through insects. It’s the risk we’re concerned about.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep022011

NC Girl Dead From Suspected Mosquito-Related Virus

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ASHEVILLE, N.C.) -- An 8-year-old North Carolina girl died this week from encephalitis, after she was bitten by a mosquito likely carrying LaCrosse virus. Her death and the hospitalization of her younger brother are the latest evidence that a wet spring and a hot, wet summer have boosted the insects' population and power to imperil public health.

Health officials on Friday awaited results of lab tests to confirm the underlying cause of the brain inflammation that proved fatal to the Henderson County, N.C., child. The youngster, whose name was being withheld, died Wednesday at Mission Hospital in Asheville, in the mountains of western North Carolina. The LaCrosse virus, which travels from the bloodstream into the brain, can cause headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting and weakness. It can only be spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. It cannot be spread from person to person.

"North Carolina is one of the areas where LaCrosse virus is endemic, so having them report cases is not uncommon," J. Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist at a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colo., said Friday. "LaCrosse disease is described more often in children, likely due to the interaction between children and the tree-hole breeding mosquitoes that carry the virus."

As of Aug. 30, there were 22 confirmed and probable LaCrosse illnesses reported to the CDC. The CDC tally consisted of four cases from North Carolina, along with others from Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Mosquito surveillance that began in late spring in such states as Connecticut has shown an explosion in the numbers of mosquitoes caught in traps. As a result of this banner year for the buzzing biters, entomologists and health agencies have repeatedly reminded Americans to use insect repellants and avoid being outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are likeliest to turn to people for their blood meals. They also advise emptying standing water that mosquitoes use as breeding grounds, a particular risk in many states following the flooding from Hurricane Irene. Screened windows and doors can put more distance between mosquitoes and vulnerable skin.

Melting of the heavy winter snowfall, Mississippi River flooding and high waters from Hurricane Irene can be blamed for some of this year's profusion of "nuisance mosquitoes," although they're not the culprits in potentially fatal mosquito-linked diseases, Staples said. She and her colleagues worry more about the high heat of summer, which boosts the population of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. Cases peak in late August and early September, Staples said. The virus first appeared in this country in 1999.

The most devastating of the mosquito-linked illnesses is Eastern equine encephalitis, which is rare, but fatal in about a third of cases. There is no treatment. Survivors often have brain damage. EEE is carried by Culiseta melanura mosquitoes, which live in marshes, swamps and other bodies of still water. So far, New York has reported the only human case for 2011. Seven other states have detected the disease in mosquitoes, birds and other animals.

As of Aug. 30, Arkansas reported a probable human case of St. Louis encephalitis, typically found in Eastern and Central states, and most dangerous to older patients. Florida and Nevada have detected it in insects and animals, the CDC's latest tally showed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug192011

Houston Drought, Heat Wave Brings Plague of Bugs, Broken Pipes

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Houston is suffering through its worst drought in decades, and the misery is being compounded by a plague of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, infestations of fleas, and a cascade of bursting water pipes that are spilling the city's precious water supply.

Most worrisome for the city is the sudden surge in the number of mosquitoes carrying West Nile.

"This summer we had an incredibly dry, very hot summer and so that will do nothing but increase the positive number of mosquitoes," said Kristy Murray, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who has studied the West Nile virus for nine years.

More than three times the number of mosquitoes as last year have tested positive for West Nile virus, she said.

With so little water and such high temperatures, mosquitoes and birds are coming into more frequent contact as they seek out the same limited water sources.  The birds, which carry West Nile, transmit the virus to the mosquitoes when the birds are bitten, Murray said.

So far only four cases of West Nile have been reported in humans this year, but Murray said she expects even more cases in her state.

"Usually 80 percent of cases occur in August and September in humans," she said, adding that people sometimes don't show symptoms right away.

West Nile Virus causes inflammation of the brain and meningitis, and can be fatal.

For some reason the drought and heat wave has also increased the activity of fleas in Houston.

Murray said her dogs have fleas, something that can be attributed to the climate.

"I have been using every flea product on my dogs, from oral to topical, and they still have them," she said. "Fleas have never been a problem for my dogs before."

Murray said she had heard similar stories from neighbors, who have had to treat their pets for infestations for the first time.

Just as Houston is trying to preserve its dwindling supply of water, its system of water pipes are bursting at a rate of 700 a day, up from the usual rate of 200 a day at this time of year.

The heat wave has dried out the ground so much that the soil is shrinking, leaving gaps around the pipes.  At times, the pipes sag and crack.  At other times, the increased use of water bursts through older, worn out pipes at a spot where the soil has fallen away the from pipes.

With so much water spilling into streets, the city is having trouble maintaining water pressure and instituted water rationing this week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio