Thursday, the Texas Department of State Health Services sounded the alarm for a possible increase in West Nile virus cases this year – citing a mild winter followed by heavy, widespread rain this spring.
In Plano, an early count of mosquitoes trapped in April supports that claim.
Rachel Patterson, Plano's Director of Environmental Health and Sustainability in Plano, says the city has seen a continuous rise in the mosquito population since 2016.
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"Last year, we saw about 10 mosquitoes per trap. This April, we saw about 15 per trap, so we know there's an increase and we're expecting it to be a very busy season," Patterson explained.
Patterson says the city will spray for mosquitoes as a last resort – when there is a human case of West Nile Virus or a mosquito that tests positive.
The first line of defense, says Patterson, is to encourage people to eliminate even small pools of water from their properties.
"Typically, I tell people if you have mosquitoes on your property, you're probably breeding them," explained Plano Environmental Quality Specialist Carolyn Russell. "They have a flight path, but it's pretty small."
The state recommends the following precautions:
- Keep mosquitoes from reproducing by regularly draining standing water, including water that collects in toys, tires, trash cans, buckets, clogged rain gutters and plant pots and saucers. Change the water in pet dishes, birdbaths and wading pools at least every two or three days.
- Prevent bites by using an approved insect repellent every time you go outside, according to the directions on the label. EPA-approved repellents include DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus/p-menthane-diol.
- Create a barrier by covering up with long sleeves and pants.
- Keep mosquitoes out by using air conditioning or ensuring all doors and windows have screens that are in good repair.
According to DSHS, there were 146 cases of West Nile disease in Texas last year, including 11 deaths. Over the last five years, Texas has had 1,305 cases and 57 deaths.
Most people exposed to West Nile virus don't get sick, but about 20 percent develop symptoms that include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue.
In less than one percent of cases, the virus affects the nervous system, leading to a more serious illness that can cause neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and death.