SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) reports the first human case of West Nile virus infection in New Mexico this year. The patient is a San Juan County man in his 50s. He was diagnosed with the neuroinvasive form of the disease, which has required hospitalization, and he is now recovering.
West Nile virus is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that can sometimes be fatal. New Mexico has had cases of West Nile virus infection every year since the virus was introduced to New Mexico in 2003.
Mosquito populations increase when temperatures are warm and standing water is accessible. Female mosquitoes can lay hundreds of eggs in even a small amount of water. Mosquitoes can carry diseases, including West Nile virus, that can make you and your family sick. It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to make a person sick.
The Department of Health encourages New Mexicans to take precautions to protect themselves against West Nile virus. Last year, there were 40 cases in New Mexico, including four fatal cases, and in 2018 there were seven confirmed West Nile virus cases in the state with one reported death.
To reduce the chance of a mosquito bite that can transmit West Nile virus, NMDOH recommends that people should:
- Use an approved insect repellent every time you go outside and follow the instructions on the label. Among the EPA-approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus/para-menthane-diol.
- Regularly drain standing water and scrub containers, including empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, saucers under potted plants, birdbaths, wading pools, and pets' water bowls. Mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus breed in stagnant water.
- Make sure rain barrels are tightly screened.
- Wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
- Use air conditioning or make sure there are screens on all doors and windows to keep mosquitoes from entering the home.
"At a time where all of us are focused on COVID-19, we still must remember common seasonal viruses like West Nile," said Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel. "West Nile virus can be a serious health concern anywhere in New Mexico where mosquitos are active."
There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile virus infection. People 50 years of age and older and those with other health issues are at highest risk of becoming seriously ill or dying when they become infected with the virus. If people have symptoms and suspect West Nile virus infection, they should contact their healthcare provider.
Symptoms of the milder form of illness, West Nile fever, can include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. People with West Nile fever typically recover on their own, although symptoms may last for weeks to months. Symptoms of West Nile neuroinvasive disease can include those of West Nile fever plus neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
Horses can get sick with West Nile virus too. To protect your horse against West Nile virus:
- Consult your veterinarian to ensure the current West Nile virus vaccination status of your horse.
- Routinely apply horse-specific insect repellant on your horses.
- Minimize horse exposure to mosquitoes during peak mosquito feeding periods at dawn and dusk.
For more information, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, visit the West Nile Virus section of our website, NMHealth.org.