West Nile Virus has migrated southwest for the deadliest epidemiologic showdown of its kind that the United States has seen in approximately eight years.
Although cases of the insect-hosted virus have been reported all across the south, the Lone Star state stands alone as the most severely affected region, with 351 instances of infection officially documented thus far. The outbreak has gotten so dire in Texas that, just last week, Dallas County — the most densely populated location in the state, which has seen 89 cases of neuroinvasive West Nile this year — sanctioned an aerial spraying of insecticide for the province in attempts to stalemate the illness’ spread. It’s the kind of aggressive move that the district hasn’t observed in nearly 50 years, but one officials deem entirely necessary — of the 15 deaths from the virus in Texas this year, eight of the deceased were Dallas County residents.
Some medical specialists claim that the spread of insecticide will prove to be more of a detriment to health than its saving grace, as evidence supporting the chemicals’ effectiveness in preventing West Nile is hazy at best. Nevertheless, five planes are poised for takeoff, awaiting approval from jurisdiction leaders.
“This is a matter of extreme concern, and we’re going to follow the science and do what’s best for our people,” Clay Jenkins, a Dallas County judge and the county’s top elected official, told  the AP.
According to the Texas Infectious Disease Control Unit, if the pattern of infection persists, 2012 could easily outpace the 438 cases in 2003, currently the worst year for West Nile in state recorded history. Other states like Louisiana and Mississippi have been confronted with their fair share of West Nile run-ins as well, with 68 cases/six deaths and 59 cases/one death reported respectively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that through the end of July, the organization received the most case accounts since 2004; 80 percent of those reports came from Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
“It is not clear why we are seeing more activity than in recent years,” Dr. Marc Fischer, medical epidemiologist with CDC’s Arboviral Diseases Branch, said in a statement. “Regardless of the reasons for the increase, people should be aware of the West Nile virus activity in their area and take action to protect themselves and their family.”
Any location where mosquitos are prevalent is a place susceptible to West Nile outbreaks, the CDC confirmed. Most patients inflicted with West Nile won’t show any symptoms, but 20 percent of the ailing will develop fever, headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Because vaccines and medications are currently not available to prevent and ward off the virus, experts insist that physicians direct their patients on behavioral precautions that can lessen risk for contraction.
The Texas Department of State Health Services released the following recommendations for staying east of West Nile.
- Use approved insect repellent during every outside outing and follow label instructions. Approved repellents are those that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
- Regularly drain standing water, including water that has collected in empty cans, tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters and saucers under potted plants. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water.
- Wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
- Use air conditioning or making sure all windows and doors have screens to keep mosquitoes out of homes.