West Nile Virus Prevention

TMA Testimony: 186 by Sen. John Carona

Senate Health and Human Services
Feb. 12, 2013

Good afternoon Chair Nelson and the members of the committee. The Texas Medical Association (TMA), representing 47,000 physicians and medical students, submits our strong support of Senate Bill 186 by Senator Carona. Texas physicians know the dangers of West Nile virus (WNV). Many of us have treated patients with the disease – some of us have even contacted the virus (see Texas Medicine story).

Texas’ much-needed moisture and mild winter in 2011-2012 created the perfect brewing ground for WNV, a virus spread by mosquitoes that feed off infected animals. The virus was so severe in North Texas last summer that, at the urging of Texas physicians, Dallas County declared a state of emergency and began aerial spraying yesterday to combat it.

More than a third of all WNV cases reported in the U.S. in 2012 were in Texas — at least 1,739 people contracted the virus. Moreover, of these, 785 suffered from the neuroinvasive WNV, the most serious form of the disease. Symptoms of the neuroinvasive WNV include headache, neck stiffness, high fever, disorientation, muscle weakness, and convulsions.

The only way to prevent WNV is community-based mosquito prevention programs that include:

  • Reducing the mosquito population by eliminating standing water where mosquitos can lay their eggs;
  • Spraying areas with stagnant water where mosquitos are likely to be breeding; and
  • Encouraging the public to use mosquito repellant, dress properly, and to avoid being outside when mosquitos are more likely to be out.

Most public health departments are monitoring and testing mosquito populations. Many spray, but barriers exist that prevent officials from spraying properties with standing water.

The cost of the above diseases to those individuals, to their employers and to taxpayers who foot the bill of public health intervention all indicate that there is an economic costs when we do not keep public health threats in check.  There are appropriate roles for government in ensuring the public health.

We believe SB 186 would take an important and needed step to help local public health officials prevent WNV outbreaks by reducing barriers that prevent effective spraying. It allows officials to inspect, investigate, and spray properties that are abandoned or uninhabited. This action would reduce the need for much more costly aerial spraying if WNV appears again this summer.

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