For the past few months, health officials in Tarrant County have been tracking COVID-19 closely, but they have also recently turned their attention to West Nile virus.
While it is not a definitive plan yet, Tarrant County Public Health director Vinny Taneja said they are not ruling out the possibility of conducting aerial spray for mosquitoes. So far, the county has reported nine cases of West Nile virus including one death.
“The data that we’re looking at for mosquito activity and now the sudden surge in human cases shows us there is a need for alternative tools. We’ve sort of tried the prevention aspect, the public education, making sure people are taking care of their property,” Taneja said. “At least in northeast Tarrant County, we’re not seeing a significant impact. The mosquito positivity rate remains high and it consistently high for the last two weeks, so then additional tools are needed.”
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The West Nile virus positivity rate for mosquitoes in Tarrant County is currently 40%, Taneja said. In northeast Tarrant County, he said it is between 50% and 60%. If they conduct aerial spraying, it would not widespread throughout the county. Instead, it would target the northeast portion of the county.
“We’re talking North Richland, Keller, Southlake, Grapevine, Colleyville, some of Fort Worth [and a] couple of other cities in there,” Taneja said.
They would use the chemical naled, which he said is commonly used in agriculture. According to the EPA, naled is an insecticide that has been registered since 1959 for use in the United States. It is used primarily for controlling adult mosquitoes, but is also used on food and feed crops and in greenhouses.
“It sounds very daunting. It’s not. I mean, the amount of chemical that’s sprayed…like if you take a football field, you’re spraying like one-and-a-half teaspoons. That’s not a whole lot of stuff, but it’s good enough to get good coverage, getting the mosquito population knocked down,” Taneja told NBC 5.
Dr. Sonja Swiger is an associate professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M. Her area of expertise includes entomology, or the scientific study of insects. The last time there was an aerial spraying for mosquitos was in 2012, according to Dr. Swiger.
“The results have shown when we used it in the past in Texas, it’s been very effective. It usually knocks the population down. With naled in the past, it’s knocked it down over 75%. Sometimes 90% prior to the spray,” Swiger said. “The reason it’s more effective than ground spraying is because the way it’s done. It’s over top of the trees and canopy and houses, so it’s coming from the top down instead of trying to get it from the ground to get to those insects.”
While the discussions are ongoing, Taneja said the public plays an important role as well in terms of preventative measures.
Brandon Myles, a sales manager for Myles Pest Services in North Richland Hills, said they have seen an uptick in calls for mosquito services over the past month.
“We’re getting about twice as much as we were last month. I can’t really explain that. It’s been kind of a drought. I know we just had a rain, but it’s been pretty dry. So, I’m surprised at how many mosquito calls we’re getting,” Myles said.
One of the biggest tips they offer for people in terms of mosquito control, if they are not choosing professional treatment, is the mitigation of standing water.
“Clogged gutters are a big one. Clean out your gutters because there will be little spots they’re breeding in that you never saw,” he said.
Taneja said before moving forward with any plans, they will talk to city officials such as city managers and emergency management departments. They will also need to speak with beekeepers in the area, he said.
How to Protect Yourself From Mosquito Bites
- Dress in long sleeves, pants when outside: For extra protection, spray thin clothing with repellent.
- DEET: Make sure this ingredient is in your insect repellent.
- Drain standing water in your yard and neighborhood: Mosquitoes can develop in any water stagnant for more than three days.
It has been recommended in the past that to avoid mosquito bites you should avoid being outdoors during Dusk and Dawn (the 4 Ds). While this is true for mosquitoes that commonly carry the West Nile virus, other types of mosquitoes that are more likely to carry Zika, dengue and chikungunya are active during the day. When outdoors, no matter what time of day, adjust your dress accordingly and wear insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus as your first line of defense against insect bites