DALLAS — Don't let the freezing weather fool you; cold doesn't kill mosquitoes... at least not enough of them.
Dallas County Health and Human Services kicked off its West Nile virus awareness campaign Tuesday before county commissioners, and the 2014 campaign is starting earlier than ever.
Last season, there were 16 reported cases of West Nile virus in Dallas County, including two deaths. This year, county health officials are anticipating more because the rules for diagnosing the disease have changed.
“If you didn't have a fever, it wasn't counted,” said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson. “This year, all you have to do is report that you had a fever, and it will be counted as West Nile fever."
Last year, Dr. Charles Tandy might have been North Texas’ first West Nile case. Back in May, he developed strange symptoms and went to the hospital.
"And it came back to be positive West Nile,” Tandy said of his blood test.
Tandy’s wasn’t officially considered a West Nile virus case last year because by the time he made it to the hospital, he didn't have a medically-documented fever.
State health officials advised county health departments recently that the “documented fever” technicality has been tossed out. For that reason, more human cases are now anticipated.
That could direct the amount of ground spraying and potentially trigger earlier and controversial calls for aerial spraying.
Because Tandy’s case wasn’t counted as a West Nile case last May, the neighborhood where he lives wasn’t automatically sprayed for mosquitoes.
"Oh, it's going to be panic,” Thompson admitted. “But here's the key point: If we start early and we reduce the abundance of mosquitoes, that reduces the likelihood of having increased numbers of West Nile cases."
He wants the public to be warned and to be ready by mosquito-proofing themselves and their homes. Officials recommend following the so-called “4 D's.”
- Drain standing water
- Dress in long, loose, and light-colored clothing.
- Stay indoors at Dusk (and Dawn) when mosquitoes are most active.
- Use insect repellants that contain DEET.
Mosquito-trapping happens year-round in Dallas County. Last year, the first positive samples were identified in April.
Despite freezing temperatures, any time the mercury rises above 60, health officials confirm mosquitoes are active. None, so far, have tested positive for West Nile virus this year.