Denton County declares West Nile health emergency

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by MATT GOODMAN, MONIKA DIAZ & SHON GABLES

WFAA

Posted on August 22, 2012 at 5:54 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 23 at 10:22 AM

DENTON — Denton County Judge Mary Horn has signed a disaster declaration, paving the way for aerial spraying for West Nile there.

On Wednesday afternoon, Denton County Health Department director Bing Burton sent Horn a formal recommendation asking for the declaration. In his note, he mentions the county’s 105 human cases of the West Nile virus, “the highest WNV incidence rate in the State."  According to Burton, most of the hot spots for the disease are in Lewisville and Flower Mound. 

One person has died from West Nile in Denton County; that man was in his 90s and had underlying health conditions, health officials said.

The disaster declaration says:

"Denton County is experiencing a widespread outbreak of mosquito-borne West Nile Virus that has caused and continues to cause widespread severe illness and threat to loss of life at the peril of public health and safety."

Judge Horn added her signature at about 2 p.m., allowing the county to ask the Department of State Health Services for aerial spraying of the pesticide Duet, which is currently being applied in neighboring Dallas County.

Since the beginning of the summer, the Denton County Health Department has asked residents to practice prevention — namely, removing pools of standing water; wearing long-sleeved clothing when outdoors; and spraying themselves with mosquito repellent containing the pesticide DEET.

The county itself has used larvacide in ponds and standing water, but, as Burton notes, “it has not been successful in containing this disease outbreak.”

"We are wondering maybe we need to be more aggressive because we got the highest attack rate," said Burton. "This (aerial spraying) is not based on emotion. It's not based on speculation.  We are doing this based on science."

Burton suspects that planes might start spraying next week, but before that he needs to hear from every city in the county.

"We are looking at upwards of 40 municipalities," said Burton. "We're going to have to hear from a lot of different cities whether or not they want to be included."

Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs said Horn told him at the beginning of the week that she was considering issuing a disaster declaration. He said he understands her concern; large portions of Denton County are secluded from urban development and tough to reach, making it difficult for the health department to take the same steps that a city can.

“The city of Denton has been very aggressive in our addressing of the West Nile issue and the various programs we’ve used to stem the tide of the mosquito infiltration,” Burroughs said. “The county is so widespread and such a large amount of property and people are spread out so much more, it’s very difficult for the county to address it the same way our city has.”

Burroughs said Denton has taken an “energetic” campaign against West Nile. The city has sprayed pesticide from the ground in neighborhoods where mosquito traps have captured positive tests for the virus. He said the city has notified area homeowner associations to help eliminate any standing water.

When called, Denton workers have used larvacide in pools of standing water.

“I don’t know another city that’s taken such aggressive measures,” Burroughs said.

Burton said the county will send out a formal notice to cities alerting them that they can choose whether to opt in or out of the aerial spraying. Burroughs said he hadn't received that notice yet.

However, he's working to schedule an emergency City Council meeting so it can vote on whether Denton will opt in. And though he’s proud of the measures the city has taken against West Nile, Burroughs wouldn’t throw his support behind opting in or out of the spraying.

“The latest stats I’ve seen show the numbers of tracked West Nile-infected mosquitoes have gone way down in the last couple weeks, but it’s kind of hard to say why that’s the case,” he said. “All you can do is try and contain it. I think, at this moment, we are trying to do a pretty good job at that. Can it change? Absolutely … this is nature.”

Denton would be the second North Texas county to ask the state for aerial spraying. Last week, aircraft began covering 360,000 acres of Dallas with pesticide. Health officials will have to wait between three and 14 days to see whether the measures stopped the spread of the West Nile Virus.

Horn has not responded to a request for comment.

Emergency meetings to discuss the West Nile outbreak have been scheduled in these Denton County communities:

if you live in Denton County, check your city's website for hearing information.  

 E-mail mgoodman@wfaa.com and mdiaz@wfaa.com

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