DALLAS — About three weeks after being bitten by a mosquito, Dr. Don Read said the worst hit.
"My legs were almost completely paralyzed," recalled the Medical City Dallas Hospital surgeon. "My arms were partly paralyzed. I couldn't speak. My wife said I couldn't hear for a while. I couldn't write. I couldn't communicate at all."
That was in 2005.
"We're very alarmed," said Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zach Thompson. "We're very concerned. We've seen a number of mosquito pools throughout Dallas County that leads us to believe that we're in for a long summer."
This year, Dallas County health officials say they're worried that mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus have been found earlier than ever. Infected mosquito pools have already been detected in 17 North Texas zip codes.
"Mild winters usually lead to more insects," explained Tony Jenkins, the county's assistant director for environmental health. "That's why we're seeing more insects. But why we're seeing more West Wile, that's what we're studying."
Most infected people will show no symptoms. Milder symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches.
Severe West Nile infections can cause neurological complications such as encephalitis.
Research shows one in 125 people who get West Nile virus suffers severe effects, which can last for years. People 50 years of age and older are at highest risk.
There is no specific treatment for WNV infection. Patients receive supportive medical care and rehabilitation, if needed.
"You creep and crawl step-by-step out of a very dark pit," Dr. Read said, who still wears leg braces seven years after being infected. He said failing to take precautions against mosquito bites is playing Russian roulette with your health.
To protect yourself, experts recommend:
Using insect repellents that contain DEET or any other EPA-approved insect repellent
- Remove all areas of standing water around your home
- Change water in wading pools, pet dishes and birdbaths several times a week
- Avoid mosquito bites by wearing long, loose and light-colored clothing