CDC Recommends Changes to North Texas' WNV Prevention Approach

Agency recommends more trapping, creation of coordinated mosquito control district

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says North Texas needs to do more to prevent another West Nile virus epidemic.

According to a CDC report obtained by the NBC 5 Investigates team that details the recommendations, counties should increase the number of fixed trapping sites and frequency of routine trapping.

The report also says that North Texas communities should "consider adding dead bird surveillance."

Experts say dead birds can help pinpoint the virus even earlier in the spring.

An NBC 5 Investigates report in the fall showed that local counties and the state health department no longer collect and test dead birds for West Nile virus.

The report also suggests that the four major counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area should work together to create a coordinated mosquito control district.

Currently in Texas, mosquito control and West Nile virus response are the combined responsibility of city and county officials, unlike the mosquito control district arrangement that cover larger regions of California.

The city of Dallas has already made many of the improvements the CDC recommends.

Council members received a briefing Monday about the city's new plan for dealing with West Nile virus.

"This is very different from what we did, what we had planned, about this point last year before the outbreak," Assistant Dallas City Manager Joey Zapata said.

Dallas is now trapping mosquitoes year-round and testing them for West Nile virus instead of trapping only from May through October.

The test results are returned from a lab in half the time. And Dallas will have 90 traps in use around the city during the summer West Nile virus season -- three times more than last summer.

"If we have more traps out there geographically distributed and, based on where we know we've had positive traps before and then we get lab results back faster, we'll get information faster, and we can respond to it," Zapata said.

The city will have a fifth truck ready for ground spraying to kill mosquitoes in infected areas, one more than last year.

Monday's briefing also outlined a more aggressive public education campaign about West Nile virus prevention measures.

"The message this year is to be prepared, and that means telling the public about West Nile, telling them what they need to do about it and then preparing staff to get that message out to reinforce the commitment to respond as situations warrant," Zapata said.

This year's public education campaign will begin on April 1, at least a month earlier than last year, and will include radio, television and billboard reminders.

"I'm satisfied," Councilwoman Linda Koop said. "And I can tell you that, in May, we're going to get another briefing on it to make sure that we have tied up any loose ends."

Koop and Councilwoman Sandy Greyson represent North Dallas areas that were among the hardest hit by last year's West Nile virus outbreak.

"I'm very happy with the stepped-up response," Greyson said. "I think we've learned our lesson in that you need to be ready to ramp up very, very quickly and you need so keep certain things in place in order to ramp up quickly."

In the combined Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties area, 940 people were reported to have contracted the disease, and 35 of them died.

Dallas County commissioners are scheduled to receive a West Nile virus update Tuesday morning.

NBC 5's Scott Friedman contributed to this report.

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