West Nile cases on the rise

By Darrell Todd Maurina

The first local county where humans contracted West Nile continues to have the highest number of cases in the region.
Bailey County now has 10 confirmed cases of West Nile in humans and 13 more suspected cases are awaiting the results of state testing, officials with Muleshoe Medical Center said.
“I can’t tell you why we are having such a problem in Bailey County,” said Dr. Bruce Purdy, chief of staff at the hospital. “Everybody coming in with a little bit of aches and fever thinks they’ve got West Nile and want to be tested.”
Purdy cautioned residents shouldn’t panic and said birds are in much greater danger from West Nile than humans.
“I talked to a person who thought someone was throwing dead blue jays in their yard and I told her it was probably them dying of West Nile,” Purdy said. “Some of the crows and blue jays seem to be much more susceptible to the infection and people are finding dead blue jays everywhere. Horses and humans are just incidental hosts.”
Bruce Hinchey, laboratory manager at Muleshoe Medical Center, said he expects to get results on the remaining 13 suspected Bailey County cases soon.
Hinchey said the hospital typically doesn’t get confirmation for about one to two weeks after testing.
“When I’ve talked to the Department of Health what they relayed to me is they batch these tests and run them on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Hinchey said. “Depending on when they receive the specimen, if they get one today it probably won’t even be included on the batch so it would be until next Tuesday until they do the test.”
Both Hinchey and Purdy agreed Bailey County probably has many more cases than have been detected so far. Since the disease is usually mild, not everyone with symptoms gets tested.
“Some of the physicians have said they’ve seen some patients who probably did have it but they would have to pay for the tests so they opted not to have it done,” Hinchey said.
Other counties in the area reported much smaller West Nile numbers. Parmer and Curry counties each have three confirmed cases and Roosevelt County has one.
The New Mexico Department of Public Health reported three Curry County residents — males age 46, 49, and 80 — have been confirmed with West Nile. The 80-year-old was reported to have a severe case of the virus and has contracted both encephalitis and meningitis; the other cases are mild.
But Plains Regional Medical Center interim administrator Wes White said he did not know of any serious cases of West Nile in the county; medical staff earlier reported that three people had been hospitalized with suspected West Nile but have since gone home.
Dr. Bernadette Albanese of the New Mexico Department of Public Health said the apparent discrepancy may be differences in reporting methods.
“There may not be a one-to-one correlation between the place of residence and where they are being treated,” Albanese said. “The county is listed based on where the patient’s residence is. They could be cared for in Kansas and if they live in Curry County they will be reported as a Curry County case.”
Albanese said she did not have records indicating where the 80-year-old Curry County man is being treated.