Tarrant County health officials Thursday reported the first death this year associated with the West Nile virus.The victim, a south Fort Worth man in his 30s with underlying medical conditions, was one of four previously reported cases of the illness in 2013, according to the Tarrant County Public Health Department.The man, who contracted the mosquito-borne illness in late August and became ill around Sept. 1, had the most serious form of the disease, a neurological infection, according to Dr. Anita Kurian, associate director of the county health department.“Typically, we see the neuroinvasive form of the disease in people who are over 50 years of age and people who have had organ transplants; they are at the highest risk for the illness,” Kurian said.The neurological infection afflicts less than 1 percent of the people who are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 10 percent of people who develop a neurological infection will die. No vaccine or specific antiviral treatments for West Nile virus infection are available. Most people (70-80 percent) who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. About 20 percent of people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.People with symptoms should check with their physician, health authorities say. The other three Tarrant County cases this year include two women in Fort Worth, one in her 80s, the other in her 40s (both with West Nile virus fever) and a Keller man in his 60s with the neurological infection, Kurian said.In 2012, Texas led the nation in West Nile cases with 1,868, including 89 deaths. The epidemic was most virulent in Dallas County, which recorded 396 cases and 19 deaths, and Tarrant County, which had 259 cases and 11 deaths, according to the state health department.Nationally, the CDC reported 5,674 cases and 286 deaths in 2012. There have been 1,135 West Nile virus cases and 44 deaths in 45 states across the nation in 2013, according to the CDC. The most cases have been reported in Colorado (197), California (176), and South Dakota (106).There have been 62 cases, including 36 neuroinvasive cases, and four deaths in Texas, according to the CDC.So far this year, there have been 29 positive mosquito samples from seven cities in Tarrant County, Kurian said.“They have been widespread around the county,” she said, noting that after last week’s rains, people should be watchful about standing water around their homes and neighborhoods where mosquitoes can breed.“It has been a milder season compared to last year but the potential for infections remain so we are asking citizens to remain vigilant and empty standing water,” Kurian said, noting that Tarrant County West Nile virus cases have been contracted as late as December.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp