Hous­ton eyes ill­ness-caus­ing mos­qui­toes

Hur­ri­cane left plethora of places for them to breed

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NATION - By Jamie Sten­gle

DAL­LAS — Health of­fi­cials in Texas will be on watch in com­ing weeks for any in­creases in mos­quito-borne dis­eases, in­clud­ing the West Nile and Zika viruses, after Har­vey’s heavy rains and flood­ing brought wa­ter that filled ponds and ditches and crept into trash and de­bris that piled up.

“We’re not out of the woods. I still think we don’t re­ally know what we’re go­ing to see, so that’s why we’ve got to mon­i­tor it,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the Na­tional School of Trop­i­cal Medicine at Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine in Hous­ton. “The next month is go­ing to be the crit­i­cal time,” he added.

Of­fi­cials are hope­ful, though, that aerial and ground spray­ing done after Hur­ri­cane Har­vey made land­fall on Aug. 25 will help en­sure that pop­u­la­tions don’t swell. The Texas De­part­ment of State Health Ser­vices said more than 7 mil­lion acres were sprayed by plane across ar­eas in­un­dated from Har­vey.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern is West Nile. Texas trails only Cal­i­for­nia this year in the num­ber of cases of the virus, which is trans­mit­ted from in­fected birds to hu­mans by the com­mon Culex mos­quito. Most peo­ple don’t de­velop any symptoms, but those who do may have fever, headache, vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhea. In rare cases, peo­ple de­velop se­vere ill­nesses such as en­cephali­tis and menin­gi­tis, which can be deadly. Texas has had at least 100 hu­man cases this year, in­clud­ing three deaths.

While there’s cur­rently no ev­i­dence of on­go­ing trans­mis­sion of mos­quito-borne dis­eases in­clud­ing Zika, dengue or chikun­gunya in Texas — all three spread by the Aedes ae­gypti mos­quito — of­fi­cials are on guard for any emer­gence.

As ex­pected in the Hous­ton area, an in­crease in mos­qui­toes came about two weeks after the storm. But Dr. Umair Shah, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Har­ris County Pub­lic Health, said of­fi­cials were able to get those num­bers down with aerial and ground spray­ing.

Sven Ro­den­beck, chief sci­ence of­fi­cer of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion’s hur­ri­cane re­sponse, said there’s a po­ten­tial for upticks in mos­quito-borne dis­eases after hur­ri­canes, so “that’s why you nor­mally do mon­i­tor­ing and as ap­pro­pri­ate do mos­quito con­trol ac­tiv­i­ties.”

In the U.S. main­land, Florida and Texas are the only two states that have seen lo­cal trans­mis­sion of Zika, which can cause brain dam­age in ba­bies whose moth­ers are in­fected when preg­nant.

Of­fi­cials in Florida, where Hur­ri­cane Irma hit two weeks after Har­vey, are also closely mon­i­tor­ing for mos­quito-borne dis­eases and have in­creased spray­ing in sev­eral ar­eas. Florida also cur­rently has no on­go­ing trans­mis­sion of Zika, chikun­gunya or dengue, and this year has only had one lo­cally ac­quired case of West Nile.

Health of­fi­cials in both states say res­i­dents need to stay vig­i­lant by us­ing mos­quito re­pel­lent, wear­ing cloth­ing that cov­ers arms and legs, and drain­ing stand­ing wa­ter.

“There’s only so much that gov­ern­ment and pub­lic health and mos­quito con­trol can do,” said Shah, adding, “It re­ally is a part­ner­ship with our com­mu­nity.”

Matt Rourke The As­so­ci­ated Press

So­hail Soomro dumps flood de­bris on his yard in Katy, Texas. Har­vey’s flood­ing filled ponds and ditches and crept into de­bris, and that has of­fi­cials watch­ing for mos­quito-borne dis­eases.

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