Possible Human WNV Cases Rise Sharply

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The explosion of human cases of West Nile continues in Brazos County. Friday, health department officials said they are now aware of seven possible cases of the disease.

Officials announced there are five people who are "presumptive positive" for West Nile in Brazos County. That's in addition to the two cases that the state have confirmed, which we first reported to you Thursday.

When a hospital's tests on a person come back positive for West Nile, the health department calls that result a "presumptive positive." Those results are then sent to the state's experts for further testing. If they are still positive, then it is official in the health department's eyes.

Last year, only three people tested positive for West Nile in Brazos County according to the health department.

The continual emphasis to county residents is that even though your neighborhood might not show up on the news with a positive pool of mosquitoes, assume the disease is there and take all necessary precautions as a result.

It is not an unexpected rise in the disease, experts say.

"They had a big jump on us this year," said Texas A&M expert Jim Olsen of the mosquitoes in the area, "so we anticipated that if West Nile was going to pop, it was going to pop big, and it did."

At the press conference, the local West Nile experts laid out the oft-repeated but often necessary statements: West Nile is here, there and everywhere in the county.

"This is a preventable illness," Charles Williams with the county health department said. "The way you prevent the illness is not to be bit my mosquitoes."

The now-seven positive human West Nile tests comes as more and more counties have stopped testing for positive pools of mosquitoes. Last year, some 120 counties conducted tests like Brazos County does. This year, that number is down to around 40.

So why are fewer counties testing? A big reason goes up the government ladder, as federal funding has decreased on the West Nile testing front. The reason for the decrease is also somewhat simple: it's plainly clear, say health officials, that West Nile is prevalent everywhere.

"Once you've confirmed the presence of the virus in the area, you have to assume that at some point, you're going to begin getting human cases occuring," Williams said. "Once you've decided an area's positive, truthfully, the question then is, how long is it going to be positive?"

Here's where the statistics can get skewed. So far, 23 mosquito pools have tested positive this year in Brazos County. That's compared to over 500 in Harris County, say local officials. But there is much more testing conducted there. The real indicator is the percentage of West Nile found.

"With incidents of positive traps set, we're equal to them," Olsen said. "Set out eight traps, six of them come back positive."

Use mosquito repellent with DEET if you are going outside and dress long sleeves and pants when possible. Also, the bugs are prevalent at dusk and dawn, so stay indoors if you can. And drain any standing water around your home so mosquitoes can't breed there.

In addition to the human cases, the first local horse has tested positive for West Nile. No word on where in Brazos County the animal is stabled. The health department is encouraging all horse owners to see their veterinarian to get vaccinations for the disease.