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Area leaders prepare for West Nile

Profile image for By John D. Harden / Staff Writer
By John D. Harden / Staff Writer

Local municipalities are discussing the best approaches to defend against the possibility that another West Nile virus outbreak may occur throughout the region this summer.

In May 2012, Denton County reported its first human case of the virus of the year, which originated in the southern portion of an unincorporated part of the county. That was the first in a series of cases that led to the worst outbreak on record, according to county and state health data.

Regional leaders are now preparing to make sure their municipalities do not suffer a repeat.

In March, county officials begin trapping and testing mosquitoes in the unincorporated areas of the county to determine if a West Nile presence may exist again this year.

Though the county hasn’t reported any cases, municipalities are distributing mosquito dunks and officials are asking residents to be proactive in eliminating any standing water.

“I would be remiss if I did not issue a challenge now to all of us to prepare for the upcoming problem regarding the West Nile Virus issue,” Shady Shores Mayor Jerry Williams said. “This is the time to enact prevention by eliminating areas of standing water where the larvae can produce.”

In Corinth, officials have discussed either partnering with neighboring cities or conducting their own mosquito testing to better prepare.

Leaders in other cities have expressed interest in adding West Nile virus discussions to their upcoming agendas.

In 2012, health officials said the first report came a little earlier than usual, but they clarified that the single report of early onset of human illness did not necessarily indicate an unusually heavy West Nile virus season.

However, statewide and countywide, the West Nile virus outbreak became an epidemic, health officials said. By August, there were 143 reported cases in Denton County.

Copper Canyon Mayor Sue Tejml said there were at least two people who were infected with the virus in the town. She said one person was in her 50s and the other was in her 20s.

“We did better than most, but we want to eliminate it as much as possible,” she said.

At the height of the outbreak in August, the county had approximately 16 cases for every 100,000 residents. It was one of the highest rates in the state, said Bing Burton, director of the county health department.

In comparison, Tarrant and Dallas counties reported between seven and nine cases per 100,000 residents.

“There are many different projects from multiple agencies and universities that are looking into the reason for the outbreaks,” said Jim Schuermann, an epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services. “As yet, we do not know, and we may never know for sure.”

According to Denton County records, a total of 184 cases, including two deaths were reported.

It was reported by county officials that a Nebraska man in his 80s, who visited Highland Village last summer, was diagnosed with the virus after returning home and later died.

Denton County officials did not record that case as a West Nile virus-related death because the man died in his home state, and officials could not determine for sure where he was infected.

After the first reported case, it took County Judge Mary Horn almost three months to declare a health emergency, calling for a countywide aerial spraying to help combat mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Horn allowed county municipalities to opt out of the aerial spray and 13 of 44 municipalities opted out, including Denton.

Tejml said she hopes the county conducts another aerial spray to help some of the county’s rural towns and cities.

“We have homes on 1-acre-plus lots and fogging doesn’t do anything for the homes that aren’t on the roads,” she said. “I hope the county does another aerial spraying. Our citizens voted 40-to-1 in favor of the spraying. I’m sure they’ll do it again.”

Last year’s outbreak still has state and local health officials scratching their heads as to why the outbreak occurred.

“As to predictions, my crystal ball broke during last year’s outbreak. My gut feeling is that we won’t see a repeat,” Schuermann said. “But even if we only see half the cases we did last year, it would be the second-highest number of cases ever reported.”

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter @JDHarden.