West Nile Virus Victim Questions Whether Health Department Delays Added to Epidemic

CDC tells NBC 5 it recommended Dallas County "strongly consider" aerial spraying in July

By Scott Friedman
|  Monday, Oct 22, 2012  |  Updated 11:13 PM CDT
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A doctor recovering from West Nile virus wonders if he and other victims would have been spared if aerial spraying had been advocated sooner.

Scott Friedman, NBC 5 Investigates

A doctor recovering from West Nile virus wonders if he and other victims would have been spared if aerial spraying had been advocated sooner.

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A North Texas doctor recovering from West Nile virus wonders if he and some other victims who got the neuroinvasive form of the disease would have been spared if the Dallas County health department had pushed for aerial spraying sooner.

More than two months after Mike Clark got West Nile virus, he's still in rehab, trying to recover from the damage it did to his body and his memory.

"I just progressively worsened -- couldn't eat, couldn't drink," he said. "I got nauseated and finally had lost 26 pounds. It was, it was definitely scary. I mean, I didn't know if I was going to get better or worse."

If Clark wasn't recovering from West Nile virus, he might be treating patients with West Nile virus. He's a doctor, but he hasn't been able to work since August.

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"There are a lot of people who wouldn't be in the hospital, who wouldn't be in the situation I'm in, had things been done faster," Clark said.

As the NBC 5 Investigates team first reported Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it recommended that the Dallas County health department "strongly consider" aerial spraying in late July. The CDC said it gave the Dallas County health department that advice in a conference call on July 25. Dr. Janet McAllister with the CDC led that call.

"In the situation that was described, aerial spraying is, is the most effective way to treat large areas, which is what Dallas County was needing and experiencing widespread cases," she said.

But if the CDC advised aerial spraying in that call, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson apparently never passed that information along to County Judge Clay Jenkins, the top official who could authorize aerial spraying.

In a statement, Jenkins told NBC 5 Investigates: "My first communication from anyone regarding the possibility of aerial spraying for the 2012 WNV outbreak was August 6, 2012."

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Aug. 6 is 12 days after the date the CDC says it told the health department to strongly consider aerial spraying.

Thompson disputes what CDC told NBC 5 Investigates.

"I've set the record straight that the recommendation you're talking about is a recommendation that the CDC looks at overall planning," he said. "First you do surveillance, you do enhanced spraying, and then you, you, go to aerial spraying."

Thompson won't tell NBC 5 Investigates what he believes the CDC told him on that conference call, but he insists he followed CDC and county plans.

"The information you're pointing out is incorrect," he said. "There is a plan, and we followed that plan, so your information and your story that you put in place is incorrect, so have a good day."

In the end, Jenkins said he based his decision to aerial spray largely on advice he got directly from the CDC.

"The CDC told me Friday when I made the decision to request the planes that the time that we wait can be counted in additional West Nile cases and human life," Jenkins said at an Aug. 16 press conference.

But is it possible that Jenkins might have gotten some of that advice sooner if the county health director told him what the CDC says it told Thompson in the July 25 conference call?

Clark said he thinks any information gained from the CDC should have been shared with the decision makers.

"I mean, I think you should take into account what people who are supposedly experts on this are saying, and CDC is pretty expert on stuff," he said.

NBC 5 Investigates has repeatedly asked health director Thompson to sit down to talk in detail about how his department responded to the West Nile virus epidemic, but he has declined our requests.


West Nile Virus:
Click here for complete coverage of the outbreak of West Nile virus in North Texas. Find updated numbers of human cases, spraying schedules, and more FAQs about the disease.

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