The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) confirmed the state’s first 2013 case of West Nile in an adult male from Anderson County, whose county seat is Palestine. The patient is recovering from West Nile neuroinvasive disease (WNND), the more serious of the two possible contractions — the other being West Nile Fever (WNF). Additional details about the patient are not being released to protect the patient’s identity, according to a DSHS press release.
DSHS is urging people to take precautions to reduce the risk of contracting West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne illness.
“This is a serious illness that can take a long-lasting toll,” said Dr. David Lakey, DSHS commissioner. “Last season was unprecedented, with record numbers of cases and deaths reported in Texas. People need to do all they can to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”
Last year Texas accounted for almost half of U.S. cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With 1,868 reported infections and 89 deaths, state health officials were prompted to improve response capabilities.
Dallas County alone had 270 cases of West Nile virus, with 11 deaths, which prompted officials to declare a state of emergency in August 2012. Previously, from 2003 through 2011, Dallas County only saw 10 total West Nile deaths.
Kevin Sexton, director of Jefferson County Mosquito Control District (JCMCD), said he believes that drought conditions were responsible for our northern neighbors’ woes.
“A lot of times when you have drought conditions, it makes it worse with your underground storm stores and your stagnant pools because there’s nothing to wash them out,” he said. “Water has time to sit there and stagnate, and it attracts these mosquitoes. If water is running and constantly flushed out, they can’t breed in that. They have to have standing, nasty water to breed.”
Sexton also said that he doesn’t believe Dallas County uses larvicide on a regular basis like Jefferson County.
“They don’t have the normal surveillance that we do underground to see if there is something breeding down there,” he said. “All during the summer, we have a crew that goes larviciding trying to treat these particular larvae before they can reach adulthood. We’re actually concentrating on those (West Nile-bearing) mosquitoes. We have the tools to take care of everything.”
While state health officials said there is no way to predict the severity of this year’s season, JCMCD is not waiting around to find out. The county had four cases of WNND and six cases of WNF in 2012.
“We’re doing trapping for those mosquitoes, and we’re doing testing,” he said. “I don’t know when we are going to see the first positive pool, and I hope we don’t. But I’m not naïve enough to think that we won’t. We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing.”
Sexton said inspectors go underground twice a week to check the progress of the larvicide program and to see if any adult mosquitoes are present. If a large concentration is found, JCMCD dispatches planes to the area to spray. The county recently sent planes to Pleasure Island, Procter Street and Atlantic Road in Port Arthur, and Groves, LaBelle and Sabine Pass to spray for salt-marsh mosquitoes, which, unlike the Culex, do not carry West Nile.
“We flew quite extensively last week,” he said. “I think we knocked ‘em down by Saturday because our counts yesterday were extremely low.”
JCMCD is also dispatching trucks to spray for mosquitoes on a regular, rotating basis, Sexton said.
“They worked their way all through the county last week, and I started them again last night back in Port Arthur. Tonight (May 29) they’ll be in Mid-County,” he said. “We spray with the trucks Monday through Thursday evening. We don’t do Friday evening because of the weekend traffic situation. If there is some special circumstance and we need to do it on the weekend, we will.”
Sexton said that pools of mosquitoes were collected May 7 from Beaumont and May 14 from Port Arthur and Mid-County to be sent to Austin for West Nile testing. JCMCD has not yet received the results of these tests.
For updated West Nile case counts by county, visit www.dshs.state.tx.us/news/updates.shtm . Case counts will be updated weekly.
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.