The 2016 mosquito season did not bode well for the human side of the fight. The number of trapped mosquitoes that tested positive for the West Nile virus broke records and the birth defect-causing Zika virus emerged in Dallas County.
With this in mind, Dallas County Health and Human Services is getting an early start on the 2017 season, warning the public Friday about the continued threat of mosquito-borne viruses. “As the weather gets warmer it is important for residents to take sensible steps to protect themselves from mosquitoes,” DCHHS Director Zach Thompson said Friday. “Citizens can assist the county and municipal mosquito abatement teams by being proactive with mosquito control at their homes and workplaces.”
Scott Sawlis, head entomologist at DCHHS, said that in addition to the traps set by the county, Dallas County residents need to help the county out. “We need citizens to partner with us to fight the bite,” Sawlis said. “You need to think about what you can do to repel mosquitoes in your yard. Wear repellent and long clothing and dump and drain standing water.”
While Thompson refused to guess the potential severity of the 2017 mosquito season, he emphasized that West Nile will remain Dallas County’s biggest mosquito-borne threat. He called the flu-like, often deadly virus “public enemy No. 1.”
The Zika virus, on the other hand, remains something of an unknown quantity. Although more than 40 Dallas County residents came down with the virus in 2016, each of the known cases of Zika was contracted elsewhere.
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Despite the fact that localized transmission has yet to happen in the county, Thompson says the county is paying close attention to Zika. DCHHS is deploying two styles of traps this season, one focused on catching and testing for mosquitoes capable of carrying the West Nile virus and one meant to attract those that primarily transmit Zika. “The impact on birth defects, the potential for birth defects is the game changer and that in itself is why we’ll have a dual perspective heading into this mosquito season,” he said.
Thompson said that, like last year, free mosquito repellent will be available from DCHHS as the county can afford it, but he emphasized the need for people, especially those traveling to areas with high rates of Zika infections, to be proactive.
“We want to be very clear. We want to protect our mosquitoes in Dallas County, so if you travel to an endemic country where there is a Zika outbreak, do us a favor and wear mosquito repellent,” Thompson said. “It may sound odd, but because our mosquitoes don’t have the Zika virus, protect our mosquitoes.”
Last year, Miami, Florida, and Cameron County, Texas were the only areas in the United States to see local Zika transmission. Both of those areas were given the highest risk level by University of Texas researchers looking at local Zika transmission in the United States. Dallas, because of its status as an international hub and its climate, is in the group of cities with the next highest risk, University of Texas professor Sahotra Sarkar told the Observer last year.