DALLAS — Earlier this year in Dallas County, the West Nile virus outbreak killed 18 people and sickened nearly 400 more. And despite the onset of winter, the region is not done with the virus just yet.
"It's still West Nile season, as far as we are concerned," said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson.
Typically, West Nile virus and the winged pests that transmit it aren’t as much of a concern in the cooler months. But this hasn't been a typical year.
"We're still seeing [mosquitoes] throughout the winter time," said the county’s lead mosquito technician, Spencer Lockwood, as he examined a sample of captured insects using a microscope.
Contrary to popular thought, mosquitoes survive even in cold weather, and some of them will still carry West Nile virus. In fact, the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department reported the latest human case here was confirmed a couple of weeks ago.
The way authorities see it now, there really is no off-season for mosquitoes in North Texas, and there shouldn't be one in the fight against them, either. The county has now expanded its program to trap and test mosquitoes year-round.
"This is going to be totally different than our game plan last year," Thompson insisted. He said the most effective way to combat the critters is to have current and continuous information about where they are and what they're carrying.
"It's very critical," he said. "We didn't have that last year. We didn't get it until later on."
Along with more information, more spraying trucks are now ordered. And for the first time, the county will soon begin testing mosquitoes to make sure they haven’t adapted to the poisons being used to kill them.
Thompson believes the approach will significantly swat down the threat come next year.
“Can we prevent another outbreak? No," he said, "but what we can prevent is a lag in our response, like we had last year."
Authorities recommend that North Texans continue preventative measures, even in winter months. Those include using special caution outdoors at dusk and dawn, wearing dark clothing, and the use of repellents that contain DEET.
As always, health officials also ask residents to eliminate any areas of standing water around their homes.