Diseases like malaria are not common in the United States, so the urgency to control mosquito infestations has evolved from a matter of public health to one of eliminating the annoyance of bites. But that could be changing as incidents of West Nile virus continue to grow.

The Associated Press reported last week that with the arrival of spring showers — and an especially wet season in Texas — mosquito-control workers across the nation are gearing up for another round in their ongoing battle against West Nile Virus. The mosquito-borne virus, which many times doesn’t cause serious illness, nevertheless killed 177 people in the United States last year.

Texas, where the virus first appeared in 2002, led the nation in West Nile deaths last year with 32. The state’s 354 human cases was second only to Idaho’s 996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only two cases have been reported in humans so far this year, both in Mississippi, and the only confirmed case in Texas has been in a horse in Collin County. However, there is a time-lag in reporting, so several suspected cases of illness — even some in the area — may yet be listed as West Nile.

The first case of West Nile virus identified in the United States was in New York in 1999, and it has since spread to all of the continental 48 states. But the CDC says it cannot predict where any “hot spots” for the diseases might show up this year.

Cold weather late in the winter helped slow reproduction of the two mosquito species mostly responsible for the spread of the virus. Recent flooding also disrupted that cycle, but it did trigger an abundance of other annoying mosquito species. Spend a few minutes outside late in the afternoon, and they will be sure to find you.

Mosquito control is important because this disease is not going to go away. The more deadly form may still be rare, but neuroinvasive West Nile, which can cause meningitis or encephalitis, is much more common.

Spraying programs conducted by cities — including Brownwood — represent a first line of defense against mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry. But residents cannot sit back and assume that will take care of the problem. Eliminating stagnant pools of water, including mud puddles, is critical to to effort, and property owners must become more diligent about doing this. Health officials told the Associated Press that Texans are generally aware of the possibility of mosquito-borne diseases, but that awareness has not translated into widespread action. It would be unfortunate if West Nile becomes a much more serious threat because people fail to take the simple steps needed to eliminate mosquito breeding areas.

Brownwood Bulletin