Public Health Workers Respond to Nationwide West Nile Virus Outbreak
Currie, Donya, The Nation's Health
AS WEST Nile virus cases surged in the United States this summer, public health officials were faced with controlling mosquitoes, tracking infections and educating the public about prevention.
Texas has been particularly affected by this year's West Nile epidemic. As of mid-September, the state had recorded 40 percent of the nation's more than 3,100 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the state's hardest hit areas around Dallas, state and county health officials brought in airplanes for aerial mosquito control spraying.
"We knew we were on track for having the worst numbers since 2002," Carrie 'Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told The Nation's Health. "We knew the magnitude of the situation we were facing couldn't be overstated, and we needed to make sure we were using all the tools we had to combat the spread."
In weeks leading up to the August aerial spray effort targeting thousands of acres, the state health department worked with county officials to coordinate when to spray with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved insecticide to control the spread of mosquitoes.
"We had our work cut out for us," Williams said. "There were differences in opinion over whether aerial spraying was the right approach."
Health officials also talked to members of the Dallas community about what to expect, the cost, the effectiveness and the overall rationale of aerial spraying.
West Nile virus is spread by birds that are bitten by mosquitoes, and the insects then bite a human. In 80 percent of cases, there are no symptoms. And generally, those who do have symptoms do not suffer severe effects of the virus. Yet about one in 150 cases are "neuroinvasive" and can cause such symptoms as tremors, high fever and paralysis. This year's outbreak had resulted in 131 deaths as of mid-September, and federal health officials believe it is on the track to be the worst on record since West Nile virus first emerged in the country in 1999.
Nationally, CDC officials have found themselves grappling with public education as well as surveillance and support for local and state health departments. All states except Hawaii and Alaska have reported cases in 2012. The frill impact of this year's outbreak will not be known for many months because of both the lag time in being bitten by an infected mosquito and showing symptoms and having those symptoms confirmed by testing and reported to health authorities. …