Where has WNV gone?A paper written by epidemiologist Dr. Wendy Chung and colleagues in 2013 may offer some insights on the absence of the virus this summer. Those of us who lived in Dallas in 2012 may remember that summer as the worst human outbreak of WNV ever. Nearly 400 cases were reported in Dallas County alone, and 19 people died of the disease. The epidemic was so bad that Dallas county resorted to spraying the entire county for mosquitoes by plane--something not seen in north Texas since an encephalitis outbreak in 1966.
Chung and colleagues charted the course of the disease during 2012 and saw high infection rates of mosquitoes early in the summer, followed by a rapid increase in human cases. Looking back over previous years and case numbers, the researchers concluded that an unusually mild winter followed by rainfall patterns ideal for mosquito breeding in the spring (and a very hot summer--West Nile virus multiplies quickly in mosquitoes at higher temperatures) created ideal conditions for an outbreak.
So what's different about 2019? We had a relatively mild winter, with only three days at or below 28° F, and a wet spring--both conditions mosquitoes love. But the summer, at least by Dallas standards, has so far been cool. Until this week, the DFW Airport weather station saw only two days over 100° F. By the end of July the area usually has experienced more than seven days over 100° F.
Predicting WNVOne of the tools used by health departments to predict disease risk for WNV is a statistic called the vector index (V.I.). The V.I. is calculated weekly from mosquito trap data, and combines information on both average abundance of Culex quinquefasciatus (the main carrier of WNV) and disease incidence in the trapped mosquitoes. A V.I. of 0.5 or higher for two or more weeks is considered a crisis indicator by some health officials.
The graphs shown here are provided by epidemiologists in Dallas and Fort Worth, and show both mosquito abundance and V.I. estimates for both counties. Despite higher mosquito numbers, the V.I. hasn't ventured above 0.1 for either Dallas or Tarrant counties this summer. Most of the season the V.I. has been closer to zero, hence less need for mosquito spraying and fewer people getting sick. In Dallas county this year there have been no human cases of WNV. Tarrant County (Fort Worth) reports only one case this year with a very low V.I., near zero most weeks (top graph).
According to statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services, low WNV incidence seems to be true for the whole state this year with no reported human cases as of the end of July. Harris County (Houston) also reports a light year for WNV, according to the acting director of Mosquito and Vector Control, Chris Fredregill.
Looking AheadWith this week's string of 100° days in many areas will risk go up? Certainly West Nile virus remains a threat to all of us through the end of the summer and into the fall; but this late in the season the chance of a major outbreak is probably low. On the other hand, hot weather favors the virus. It's no time to forget about mosquitoes. I expect Aedes mosquitoes (yellow fever mosquito and Asian tiger mosquito) to become more abundant after last weekend's rains. This week is a good time to get out and dump standing water. Although Aedes mosquitoes are not major disease risks, they cause most of the itchy mosquito bites we get during the day--and we don't want that.
Why Surveillance Reports?Integrated pest management is just as relevant for mosquito control as it is for all other forms of pest control. One of the principles of IPM is to base treatments on pest numbers. Because mosquito monitoring is expensive and requires special expertise beyond what most PMPs possess, few companies monitor mosquito numbers or disease. However, high quality data may be available from your local health authorities, depending where you live. A pest management company can use this data to alert customers to times of higher disease risk and changes in mosquito abundance.
Every community's mosquito situation will be different. If you are doing business in a larger metropolitan area, or a mosquito control district, you may have access to the kind of data shown here. To find out, contact your local or regional health department and ask if they provide reports of mosquito abundance and disease prevalence.
In Dallas, weekly reports may be obtained by emailing Epidemiology@dallascounty.org and requesting to subscribe to the weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report. For Tarrant County, email RWHill2@tarrantcounty.com and request to receive the Arbovirus Surveillance Report Weekly. Unfortunately, not all counties have equivalent reporting systems. Harris County provides mapping of areas with virus detection. And the Texas Department of State Health Services provides weekly reports throughout the summer for the whole state.
An additional source of information for both PMPs and your customers is the Mosquito Safari website. At the Safari you can take a virtual tour of a field and a backyard and learn important facts about mosquitoes.
If you need more intensive training, our Extension medical entomologist, Dr. Sonja Swiger, is offering classes this year for pesticide applicators wanting to prepare for their Public Health (Category 12) license. In the fall she also offers several 3-day Master Vector Borne Disease Management Courses around the state. To learn more, or to register, go to https://livestockvetento.tamu.edu/workshop-registration/ .