Updated: 10:34 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012
Published: 10:11 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012
West Nile virus illnesses in Texas continue to rise dramatically, state health officials said Tuesday, with the number of cases this summer rising to 1,013 — with 40 deaths — as an Austin man became the second in Travis County to die from the mosquito-borne disease.
A little less than two weeks ago, there were 640 cases and 23 confirmed deaths statewide. That is a 58 percent increase in cases and 74 percent increase in deaths.
State officials warned that the infections may continue until the first hard freeze of the year.
"The peak for West Nile season is August, and then there is a delay before it gets reported to us. We are expecting the numbers to keep increasing," said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. The agency's count does not include the new Travis County death, which had not yet been reported to the state. As of Tuesday, there have been 48 confirmed cases of West Nile in Travis County, up from 23 cases and one death on Aug. 22.
Health authorities have said that this year is the worst since West Nile first appeared in the U.S. in 1999 and in Texas in 2002. Health officials attribute the spread of the disease to a mild winter followed by late spring rains and a hot summer. A total of 1,590 cases of West Nile, including 65 deaths, have been reported nationwide. The first death of a Travis County resident was reported Aug. 1. Williamson County has had 11 cases and one death, Hays four cases and no deaths, and Bastrop County two cases and no deaths.
Travis County's latest victim was Austin financial adviser Ron Murray, who got a new lease on life three years ago when he received a heart transplant. He died from West Nile virus Friday, his daughter, Arren Murray, said.
Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Director Carlos Rivera on Tuesday confirmed the county's second death from West Nile neuroinvasive disease, the more serious form of the virus. Officials did not release the victim's name, saying only that the person was among those at the highest risk of severe illness: older than 50.
Arren Murray said her father had been hospitalized for more than a week from the illness and had slipped into a coma prior to his death. Ron Murray was 69.
Lou McCreary, an Austin attorney, went to visit his friend late last week. "It's very sad and ironic that after three years of great progress with a new heart, a mosquito bite brings him down," McCreary said.
Arren Murray said she and her father moved to Austin in 1992 from San Diego so she could attend Westlake High School. "Mom died when I was 10, so it's just been me and dad. He dedicated his whole life to me," she said. In 2006, Ron Murray developed a type of heart disease in which the heart muscle progressively weakens. In August 2009, about three weeks after he'd been placed on a list to get a heart, Murray got one from 40-year-old Kevin Underhill who died Aug. 16, 2009, three days after crashing in his first bike race at the Driveway Austin, a closed-circuit paved track east of U.S. 183.
Murray's body took to the new heart, and he ran with it, friends said. Murray was often seen on his bike around Lady Bird Lake. He loved music and kept playing keyboard, piano and harmonica after being in a band in California. In his younger days, the Air Force veteran was also active in hang gliding, sailing and snowboarding. "But he also had a passion for learning, and we'd have these intellectual conversations about economics, politics and the future of the world. He was such an intelligent and clear thinker," his daughter said.
Friends McCreary and Derek Howard met Murray at a Westlake football game. "We became instant friends," Howard said. "When the band played, he stood up and danced. He had an outward personality."
The trio made it a pregame tradition to find good barbecue. Murray loved Snow's BBQ in Lexington and Franklin Barbecue in East Austin. "When he moved to Texas, he said he'd hit a home run because of football, barbecue and music," said McCreary.
A memorial service is planned for later in the month.
Contact Ricardo Gándara at 445-3632