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Experts seek answers from historic West Nile surge

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 26, 2012 at 10:52 am •  Published: December 26, 2012

The situation became so severe in North Texas that the state paid for aerial spraying in areas of Dallas County and nearby Denton County. Dallas County had not conducted such an operation since 1966 when encephalitis was blamed for more than a dozen deaths.

The county began spraying insecticides from trucks with the first positive mosquito test in June and then added aerial spraying in August when it became apparent there were more areas with infected mosquitoes than they could cover with spray trucks, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

"If you look at this outbreak, it came upon us very suddenly," Jenkins said. "We might have the same situation in the future where by the time people know there is a risk out there, dozens of people have already been infected."

Dr. Don Read knows firsthand how serious West Nile virus can be and has made a mission of spreading the word about taking precautions. The 70-year-old Dallas colon and rectal surgeon contracted the neuroinvasive form in 2005 and still wears leg braces from the ordeal.

"I tell people it's something you don't want to have," said Read, who formed a support group of survivors.

"Initially, my legs were completely paralyzed. My arms were partly paralyzed. I couldn't talk. I couldn't hear. I couldn't write."

While there's no way to tell how bad West Nile will be — or which area will experience the worst outbreak — Dallas County has already made changes in anticipation of whatever warmer weather next year brings.

The county has started doing year-round mosquito surveillance and has added two microbiologists to handle the year-round testing, said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services. Jenkins added that they can now get results from mosquito testing in one day instead of seven.

Thompson said they will also start their public information campaign earlier next year, advising residents to apply insect repellent, dress in long sleeves and long pants when outside, stay indoors from dusk to dawn and drain standing water on their property.

Thompson said all options will be considered to fight West Nile this coming year, including ground and aerial spraying. But he added that if residents follow their advice and targeted spraying is done, they may not have to do aerial spraying.

Jenkins notes, "Personal responsibility is important because we can't possible kill every West Nile mosquito."