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West Nile remains threat in East Texas despite cold weather, officials say

By Jessica Ferguson jferguson@news-journal.com
Nov. 14, 2012 at 11 p.m.

It's cold out there, but East Texans are not in the clear just yet when it comes to the West Nile virus.

State health officials said Wednesday that the Culex mosquito - carrier of the potentially fatal disease - is still alive and well. More than 260 cases of West Nile have been reported since Oct. 1 in Texas.

"We can't let our guard down just yet," said Russell Hopkins, department director for public health emergency preparedness with the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

Hopkins said the mosquitoes are hiding inside and under houses, and it will take a prolonged spell of below-freezing temperatures to be rid of the insects.

West Nile Virus- which has claimed 79 lives in Texas this year- has leveled off in Northeast Texas, but cases continue to climb in other parts of the state.

Since the outbreak of the virus this year, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,754 confirmed human cases as of Tuesday.

Seven cases of the West Nile Neuroinvasive disease were reported in Northeast Texas during that period- one case in Gregg County, two cases in Panola County, three cases in Rusk County, and one in Smith County- along with three cases of West Nile fever, one case in Panola and two cases in Smith.

"Cases are still increasing across the state, but not in the immediate area," Hopkins said.

Although the threat seems to be weakened, Hopkins said residents must stay vigilant.

"Culex mosquitoes show decreased activity with temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees, but they will continue to breed," he said. "It will take days of freezing temperatures to kill them and stop breeding."

These mosquitoes, according to Hopkins, are most active between 80 to 90 degrees, become lethargic at 70 degrees and are inactive at temperatures below 50 degrees. But they are still alive.

The city of Longview progressively cut back on mosquito spraying and putting out larvacide as temperatures and West Nile cases in the area slowed.

"Things have pretty much come to a complete stop as far as cases in Gregg County," said Buck Farrar, environmental health supervisor with the city.

Farrar, who originally estimated that spraying would continue through mid-October, said the city stopped spraying for mosquitoes several weeks ago but continued to put out larvacide until this past week, just before the recent cold front.

Farrar recommends residents continue to take precautions, including removing all stagnant water from near their homes.

"Stagnant water is not good any time of the year," he said.

Farrar said the city spent less than $13,000 of its $15,000 budget on mosquito maintenance this year.

"I think we're over the hump as far as cases go, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some warm spots throughout the winter," Hopkins said.

During these "warm spots," which are conducive to mosquito activity, he said residents should continue to take precautions using the four Ds:

<ul> <li>Use mosquito repellent with DEET;</li> <li>Dress in long pants or sleeves;</li> <li>Be especially careful at dusk and dawn;</li> </ul>

And drain standing water, such as in children's pools or bird fountains, anywhere that mosquitoes may breed.

According to Hopkins, female Culex mosquitos seek refuge through the winter inside houses and barns, feeding on humans, birds and horses to survive the winter.

Mosquitoes may be seen on walls or in warm, moist areas of the home. When the cold subsides, those same mosquitoes lay their eggs and re-emerge in spring or early summer.



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