Denton County already preparing for West Nile

Denton County already preparing for West Nile

April 15
23:46 2013

Joshua Knopp / Staff Writer

After a record West Nile Virus season came early last year, Denton County officials are preparing early this year.

Public health preparedness coordinator Robert Martinez said that while normally the season starts around June, the first human case last year occurred on May 30. The long season led to a record number of cases, with 184 positive cases and two deaths in Denton County.

“They became very prevalent last year in a very warm spring,” said UNT biology professor James Kennedy, who tracks the mosquito population for Denton County during West Nile season. “I guess what was significant last year is West Nile Virus showed up very early in the mosquito population, several weeks earlier than what we would have anticipated.”

Last year, the month with the highest number of cases was August with 102 in the entire county, compared to only three combined in May and June.

Kennedy said a warm spring and early bird migration could have something to do with the virus appearing earlier in the year. Each season, mosquitoes must be infected with the virus by birds before transmitting it to humans.

The disease was also more dangerous last year, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said West Nile Virus manifests in three ways, varying from individual to individual: one strain is without symptoms, one produces a flu-like fever, and one attacks the nervous system. The third form can cause permanent damage, including paralysis.

“Last year, unfortunately, there was more neuroinvasive forms of West Nile than there were in previous years,” Kennedy said. “Nobody knows why. There are some indications, although there was no confirmation on it, that there was a mutation in the virus, but there’s no conclusive information on that.”

Martinez stressed the five “D’s:” deet, dress, dusk, dawn and drain. Residents should make sure their insect repellant has 10 to 30 percent deet, a common active ingredient, and they should wear long sleeves if out around dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. Residents should also drain standing water to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, Martinez said.

“If you can eliminate the breeding areas, that’s something people can definitely do to help reduce the risk,” Martinez said.

The county began its public information campaign April 1 and will begin mosquito surveillance May 1. Residents can go to dentoncounty.com/wnv for more information.

Biology graduate student Colleen Vonehr has been working with Kennedy since 2010. She said the group sets up mosquito traps at eight of 40 locations per week in Denton.

“By covering the entire city, we are able to tell city employees what specific areas are testing positive for WNV,” she said.

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