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Why is West Nile Virus Hitting Texas so Hard?


Texas has seen more than 600 West Nile Virus cases so far this year. That’s more than any other state in the country and almost of half of the total cases in the nation.

The Dallas area has seen by far the largest number of infections and deaths related to the disease. Eleven people have died from West Nile Virus in Dallas County alone.

But there’s no clear reason why the outbreak has been so severe in North Texas.

“The available information indicates that the numbers of reported cases are trending upward in most areas, including Texas,” says Dr. Lyle Peterson with the Centers for Disease Control.Peterson says half of all the West Nile cases in the nation are in the Lone Star State. But what’s puzzling is that some parts of the state remain largely unaffected.

“Why is this occurring in Dallas or elsewhere as opposed to Houston or some other cities? And the answer is we don’t really know,” says Peterson. “We do know that often times, West Nile virus is a very focal disease. You can have a lot of cases in one area and no cases 100 miles away. It has a lot to do with the local ecology of that area, how many birds may be susceptible, the particular population of mosquitoes that were able to breed in a certain area.”

Mid-August is the peak for West Nile epidemics, but experts say they anticipate many additional cases will be reported through September.

Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey says with 11 deaths already in Dallas County, North Texas is breaking all kinds of unfortunate records.

“If you look at Dallas County data and add up the total deaths from 2003 to 2011, they had 10 deaths. So we are now, in this year, in Dallas County, have more deaths than their entire history in the past,” Lakey says.

The CDC has sent both money and manpower to Texas to help with mosquito spraying and surveillance.

Travis County reports at least 23 confirmed West Nile Virus cases including one death. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phil Huang says they are closely monitoring the situation.

“We really advocate the four D’s," says Huang. "Between dawn and dusk to try to avoid being out during those times when mosquitos are most active. To use deet or another EPA approved insect repellant. To drain any standing water and also to dress with long sleeves and long pants.”

The CDC has sent two teams to Texas and is spending about $2.5 million to help state health officials fight the outbreak.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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