DALLAS (AP/KXAN) — Dallas County's top official has declared a public health emergency, saying the spread of the West Nile virus has become epidemic.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced the declaration in a statement issued Thursday night. Jenkins says county officials are doing all they can to fight the spread of the virus but need the public to do their part.
Dallas County health officials have reported 162 West Nile virus cases and nine West Nile deaths so far this year. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from birds they bite and then spread it to people.
There are currently 13 total confirmed cases of West Nile virus in Travis County so far this year, according to Carole Barasch with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. Four of the cases, including one that proved fatal, were reported on July 31.
The nation's top health officials say more serious illnesses from West Nile virus have been reported so far this year than any since 2004. Most have been in Texas, especially around the Dallas area.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that since 1999, more than 30,000 people in the United States have been reported as getting sick with West Nile virus. Infected mosquitoes spread West Nile virus that can cause serious, life altering disease.
The CDC says that about one in 150 people infected with the virus will develop severe illness. Symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.
The symptoms can last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent, CDC says.
About 20 percent of those who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back, the CDC says.
These symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
About 80 percent of the people with virus show no symptoms, CDC says.
According to Texas Department of State Health Services, residents can protect themselves from mosquitoes by limiting outdoor activities at dusk and dawn, since this is the prime feeding time for West Nile Virus carrying mosquitoes.
Officials said, if you go outside, take precautions; wear loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirts and long pants. All residents are encouraged to take immediate steps to eliminate the habitats where mosquitos live and breed:
- Eliminate standing water in wheelbarrows, rain gutters, buckets, plastic covers, toys, or any other container where mosquitoes can breed
- Empty and change the water in pet drinking bowls, bird baths, fountains, wading pools, rain barrels, and potted plant trays every 4 to 5 days to destroy potential mosquito habitats
- Drain or fill temporary pools of water with dirt
- Keep swimming pool water treated and circulating
- Clean out rain gutters
- Remove discarded tires or keep them dry and covered
- Add an aerator to ponds and water gardens or add fish that will eat mosquitos and larvae
- Remove debris (leaves, twigs, trash) from ditches and low areas
- Fill in ruts and holes that collect standing water
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