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Texas battling worst ever West Nile outbreak: Dozens dead, hundreds sickened

The state of Texas is in the grip of the worst outbreak of West Nile Neuroinvasive Virus (WNNV) and West Nile Fever (WNF) since the disease arrived in the United States. There are 1,683 confirmed cases of the disease reported so far and 77 deaths as of Oct. 24, according to the infectious disease division of the Texas Dept. of State Health Services.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of Oct. 23, there were 4,725 cases of West Nile nationwide and 219 deaths. Of this number, the majority of the reported cases along with almost half of the nation's deaths from the disease occurred in Texas. In contrast, during 2003 Texas had 439 cases and 40 deaths for the entire year.

The hardest hit area in the state is the Dallas/Fort Worth areas, which include Tarrant, Dallas, and Denton counties. These areas have recorded 802 cases. The area is responsible for nearly a quarter of the nationwide cases. The state also reports additional cases with 95 horses, 209 birds and 1,391 mosquitoes found to be infected.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness. Up to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have no symptoms and will recover on their own, however, some cases can cause serious illness or death.

People over 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they become infected with the virus.

Health officials are urging people to take the necessary precautions to avoid being infected.