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August 31, 2000

Texas Reports State's First St. Louis Encephalitis Case in Two Years

Spurs Polk County Warning...

Texas Department of Health (TDH) officials are advising Polk County residents and visitors to take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites after a local man was diagnosed with St. Louis encephalitis earlier this month.

The illness is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes.

"We're not trying to create undue alarm, but we want people to know there is at least one infected mosquito out there and to pay special attention to reducing their exposure to mosquitoes," said Dr. Paul McGaha, director of TDH's regional office in Tyler.

Polk County has a population of about 40,000, but local officials say thousands of others visit Lake Livingston, a popular fishing and recreation lake in the county, each week-end. McGaha said health officials are not recommending that people cancel their visits. "But we do want them to be aware of the situation and to take extra precautions," he said.

Though other species of mosquitoes can carry the virus, health officials say the primary carrier of the St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) virus is Culex quinquefasciatus, a common mosquito in East Texas. The Culex mosquitoes hatch in stagnant water that has higher levels of organic matter.  Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected wild birds which serve as a reservoir for the virus.

Health officials encourage reducing mosquito hatching grounds by removing or emptying sources of standing water. McGaha said people should use a mosquito repellant when outdoors and should try to avoid being outdoors around dawn and dusk when the Culex mosquitoes are most active.

Spraying efforts to kill mosquitoes are underway. TDH is trapping mosquitoes to test for the presence of the virus and is alerting area physicians and hospitals.

SLE attacks the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms include headache and a stiff neck. SLE illness can be mild, but it also can cause brain damage, paralysis and death. The young and the elderly are more likely to suffer more severe complications.

The Polk County man is the first SLE case reported in Texas since 1998 when four cases were recorded. The last SLE outbreak in Texas was in 1995 when 22 cases, including 19 in Dallas County, were reported. The last death from SLE in Texas occurred in 1995.

(For more information contact Paul McGaha, D.O., TDH Regional Director, Tyler, at 903-533-5264; or Doug McBride, TDH Public Information Officer, Austin, at 512-458-7524.)


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