FORT WORTH –– As the trees bud along the Trinity River, Tarrant County officials are keeping close watch while spring begins to dawn. If the recent past predicts the near future, trouble could be brewing.
After all, last year was the worst year for the West Nile virus in the state's history. There were about 1,000 human cases reported in North Texas alone. Of those, 279 were in Tarrant County; 11 resulted in death.
"The magnitude of this outbreak overwhelmed the local resources that were available for surveillance and response activities," said Tarrant County Health Department Associate Director Dr. Anita Kurian.
Tarrant County ground sprayed for mosquitoes last year but did not order aerial spraying, as Dallas and Denton Counties did.
Tuesday, Tarrant County Commissioners approved allocating $262,932 in 2013 and another $250,021 in 2014 on attacking the virus. They'll quadruple the number of mosquito traps across the county, hire two full time staff members and add two spray trucks to the county's fleet.
They'll also change their approach about spraying. Instead of targeting areas only after there's a confirmed human case, they'll base where to spray on where mosquitoes test positive.
"I agree with your decision, basically making decisions based on mosquitoes," commissioner Andy Nguyen told Kurian, after she briefed the court on the proposed changes to the West Nile plan.
Tarrant County is also beginning its efforts much earlier than normal. Staffers have already put out a handful of mosquito traps in February. Those traps don't usually go out until May. And while they've already trapped mosquitoes, none have tested positive for West Nile.
Kurian hopes the new plan makes a difference. But the great unknown is the mosquitoes themselves.
"Your guess is as good as mine," she said, when asked if she could predict the upcoming season. "We hopefully can cut down on disease activity much quicker, thereby curbing the human cases."
"I think citizens should be concerned all year long," she said, encouraging residents to drain standing water and wear insect repellent year round.
West Nile typically appears in May.