Dallas County health and city officials are wasting no time jumpstarting their yearly offensive against the West Nile virus.
Health and Human Services representatives held a press conference recently to give prevention and clinical updates on the mosquito-based virus that has claimed 42 lives in Dallas since 2002 – including 20 in 2012.
Speakers included city commissioner John Wiley Price, DCHHS medical director Christopher Perkins, mosquito control director Scott Sawlis and Sean Lemoine, a virus survivor.
Mosquito season in Dallas County is from May to November.
Like in previous years, officials are urging citizens to abide by the “Five D’s” to protect themselves from mosquito bites: Dress in long clothing, drain standing water, avoid being outside during dusk and dawn, using spray containing DEET chemicals, and treat clothing with permethrin.
Price added that it’s safe to apply a light amount of DEET to the face by spraying it on your hands and then patting it on the cheeks and forehead.
“[West Nile] is a very real threat, but one that’s avoidable with the proper prevention methods,” Price said.
Dallas attorney Lemoine, who attends First Unitarian Church in Highland Park, said he had zero knowledge of the West Nile virus before he obtained it.
“The year I got it, in 2009, there was only one reported death and 16 reported cases,” he said. “It’s not that you shouldn’t enjoy nature and being outside, but you should definitely avoid being outside at dusk and dawn unless you’re wearing long, loose clothes. You don’t need to be afraid, but you need to be conscious.”
Mosquitos become infected when they feed on infected birds; the bugs can then transmit West Nile to humans and animals. While the disease can vary in severity – most infected people will show no symptoms until three to 14 days after a mosquito bite – people 50 years of age and older have the highest risk of severe reactions.
Strong infections can lead to neurologic complications, such as encephalitis. A special blood test is needed to diagnose the disease.
There is no specific treatment for the infection, according to DCHHS. Patients will receive supportive medical care and rehabilitation depending on the severity of the infection.
Lemoine, 36, said he’s “in some kind of pain every day” since obtaining the disease.
“My life will never be the same,” he said. “I don’t take any medication, because there’s nothing I can do for my paralyzed nerves. Flu season really scares me now, because if I get the flu, I’m in trouble. My body can’t handle that, and theoretically, my life expectancy is probably way lower. But it really comes down to an ounce of effort to prevent a lifetime of suffering. Being aware of the disease and using easy methods to protect yourself will go a long way.”
“We want people to know that the disease is out there, but not to panic, and to just be cautious,” added Price.