DALLAS – Although the region is in the midst of the winter months, plans are taking shape for how to fight West Nile virus infections in North Texas as temperatures increase.
A Dallas City Council committee was briefed Monday on how authorities are planning a proactive prevention program like none before. Health experts want a quicker, more aggressive response when cases break out.
A record 940 cases of West Nile were reported in Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties last year. Thirty-five people died, according to briefing material from the City Hall staff presented to the Transportation and Environment Committee.
Unlike 2012 and earlier years, Dallas will begin its public information campaign on April 1 instead of May. The biggest addition will be the purchase of radio ads for $25,000, made possible by the expanded budget this year, which jumped from $538,960 to $543,846 in 2013.
The city will complement the radio ads with television news and public service coverage, billboards and an active social media presence.
The surveillance of mosquitoes will broaden in Dallas. Off season trapping began in December and will expand to 90 traps citywide from May to October. That's up from the 30 traps used in previous years.
The city also commits to turning around lab results on mosquitoes to a week or less, down from 14 days. Code Compliance also plans to respond quicker to complaints of standing water and water conservation violations that can lead to larvae growth.
The West Nile outbreak became so serious last year that Dallas County OK'd aerial spraying for the first time since the 1960s. The state absorbed the $3 million price tag. The 2013 plan includes aerial spraying if deemed necessary.
Last year, as cases dipped and the crisis eased, Mayor Mike Rawlings said he wanted the city to rely more on preparation and prevention in 2013 to try and avoid aerial spraying.
The approval to spread chemicals from above required public officials to make quick decisions. There was little time for a public information campaign, leaving many residents concerned about the environmental impact despite assurances by government agencies that spraying was safe.
The city also will increase its truck-mounted sprayers from four in 2012 to five this year. Truck sprays will occur as mosquito tests come back positive.
In perhaps an indication of why prevention is critical, the city says “59 percent of persons infected with WNV in Dallas County in August, 2012 reported never applying insect repellent when outdoors.”