Health department hopes to keep virus at bay; earmarks sought
Denton County officials are looking to get in front of the West Nile virus this season before things get out of hand.
County health director Bing Burton outlined some of the pre-emptive steps his department is taking, including education and trapping, and requested county funds to be earmarked to help with responsive action if positive cases of the mosquito-borne illness are found.
“We’re a long way ahead of where we were last year, and we don’t want to be there like last year,” Burton told commissioners Tuesday morning.
Last year, Denton County had the highest number of West Nile cases per capita among Texas counties with populations larger than than 50,000.
Prevention is one of the priorities this West Nile season, Burton said. The health department is emphasizing education, which includes reminding people to drain standing water to keep mosquitoes from breeding, dress appropriately around high-risk areas, stay inside during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, and use repellents containing DEET.
Burton told commissioners his department was also working to improve information sharing and coordination with area cities and keep the county website updated.
Burton also touched on the county’s efforts to trap mosquitoes to test for the virus in the unincorporated areas of the county.
“It’s the first year we have done that,” Burton said. “We continue to rely on the municipalities to do their own trapping and testing, but we weren’t comfortable with ignoring the unincorporated areas.”
Burton said health officials identified 15 sites that will be tested and noted that the process was more difficult than initially expected. Commissioners Andy Eads and Hugh Coleman offered to have their road and bridge crews help in the collection of the traps.
Since the crews are out in the mornings and are geographically spread out already, they could snag the traps and deliver them to the health department to be sent to Austin for testing, Eads said.
“It’s important that we have consistent and routine testing across the county so we can get ahead of any outbreaks before it goes countywide,” Eads said.
Eads said commissioners will take action to move some contingency funds to the health department so the money will be readily available, should any mosquitos test positive for the West Nile virus.
The county would respond with ground spraying in those areas, which can cost as much as $800 each time.
“This will prevent any lag time with the paperwork in the county. Taking that step alone will cut a week off any response time,” Eads said. “It really is a team effort across the county departments.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.