Zika, West Nile Have Officials on Alert

Reporting by Annie Wiles & Karly Hanson

Dallas has only had three confirmed cases of Zika so far, but that hasn’t stopped Governor Greg Abbott from setting up a statewide task force to prevent an outbreak. So how scared of it do we need to be?

Zika is a birth-defect-causing virus carried by mosquitoes and an international public health emergency, according to the World Health Organization. But locally, the virus has only appeared in people who have contracted the disease abroad.

“With Zika, we will infect the mosquito before they infect us; that’s how transmission will be localized,” said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health & Human Services.

Thompson is spearheading a local Zika Virus Task Force between the City of Dallas and Dallas County that will meet weekly. Its main focus is educating the public. For instance: if you are traveling to an endemic country, wear bug repellent. If you are pregnant, don’t travel to an endemic country.

However, until the virus becomes localized, county health officials will continue to focus on the greater regional threat: West Nile Virus.

“We want to make sure the public understands that the predominant virus in North Texas is West Nile, which is already a part of our ecosystem,” Thompson said.

And West Nile season is about to start.

Trapping for West Nile in Dallas will begin May 1. Crystal Woods of the Dallas Code Compliance Services stated there are no set dates for spraying yet; they will only spray if they get a positive mosquito result, which is unlikely before June.

University Park will be following Dallas’ protocol. Highland Park began spraying in February due to unseasonably warm weather, according to spokesman Lance Koppa; though it is worth noting that this decision was based purely on the number of mosquitoes found in traps, not on a positive test.

But there are downsides to spraying. Aqualuer 20-20, the insecticide being used in Dallas, can kill many kinds of wildlife. Residents can take preventive measures to reduce the need to spray.

“I go [to the Park Cities] all the time and they run their sprinklers like crazy,” said Hagen Gunstream from the Mosquito Authority of North Dallas. “And what they need to do, it’s real simple, is make sure there’s no standing water.” No standing water. This is the mosquito-prevention refrain.

Another tidbit from Steve Margolis from Natural Misting Solutions: mosquitoes are territorial. “They don’t move around much from where they hatch,” he said, another reason to control your own standing water.

If you want to avoid spraying, Gunstream recommends Bti Larvicide, a natural soil bacterium that is only toxic to mosquitoes and black flies, and kills mosquito larvae when added to standing water.

To report standing water in Dallas, or to request to be on the “Do Not Spray” List, call 3-1-1. In UP, call 214-987-5488 to report standing water; for HP, call 214-521-4161.

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