Health officials in Tarrant County are upping their efforts to prevent the spread of West Nile virus.
Ground spraying will be conducted in unincorporated portions of northwest Tarrant County this week, officials announced Wednesday. This is in response to positive West Nile virus mosquito samples from the area.
“The data that we’re seeing in our mosquitoes for the county, 30% of mosquito pools are coming back positive. That’s one in three pools that we’re testing. For northeast Tarrant, that same data is about 50%. That’s half of the mosquito pools that are testing positive. We haven’t seen this kind of stuff happen in recent years,” Tarrant County Public Health director Vinny Taneja said. “It is a harbinger, an early warning sign that if we don’t take all of the precautions now, we could see a lot of cases. It could potentially turn into an outbreak and we want to avoid having another outbreak. We’re already sick of dealing with COVID. We don’t want to deal with West Nile.”
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So far this season, 2,394 mosquito samples have been tested since West Nile virus seasonal surveillance began April 1. A total of 235 samples from the Tarrant County region have tested positive for the virus.
The first and only human case of West Nile virus in Tarrant County so far this season was reported on July 21. That case involved a senior adult with underlying health conditions from Fort Worth who died, officials said. Due to privacy laws, no other details were released.
Weather permitting, officials say the spraying this week will occur between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Thursday and Friday after resident notifications have been completed. Taneja said city partners have also expanded spray zone radii, but that only covers public properties.
“We’re in trouble here if we don’t collectively take action. What I want our community to do is take action against West Nile, you know – things you can do at home,” he said. “First thing I want you to do is buy those hosed-based sprayers and spray around in the yard. Avoid any plants that are flowering fruits because of bees are attracted to those and we don’t want to kill those bees. Already, the population is down.”
Instead, he is suggesting spraying things like tree canopies, shrubbery, and grass. Health officials also recommend property owners routinely dump standing water on their properties, check to make sure screen doors and windows do not have holes, and to wear repellant when outdoors.
“We need to take care of our own neighborhoods and our own backyard where mosquitos are breeding and getting into our house. That’s a key message. We need to take that precaution now, because the data is looking pretty bad on mosquito surveillance,” Taneja said.
According to health officials, West Nile virus can affect anyone. However, people age 50 and older run a higher risk of developing a severe infection. About 20% of infected people will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most people with this type of the disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.
Aside from the most recent case, the last West Nile virus death in Tarrant County was reported in September of 2018. The last human case was August of 2019.
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