The fight against West Nile virus continues throughout Houston and its surrounding areas as the number of human cases steadily increases week by week..
"Right now about 54 percent of the county has been affected by the West Nile virus," said Dr. Rudy Bueno with Harris County Mosquito Control.
He says right now nearly all our area has been affected by West Nile, some areas worse than others. Dr. Bueno says in particular northwest, west and southeast Harris County have seen the most positive cases in mosquitos and birds. Also inside the 610 Loop.
"The inner loop has always been busy. That's been a traditional hot spot throughout the years," said Dr. Bueno.
On Friday, 19 more mosquitos tested positive for West Nile in Harris County. To date, 97 birds that have been tested died because of the virus. That number is significantly higher than last year.
"It tells me that the level of West Nile virus is higher this year than it's been in previous years," Dr. Bueno said.
Fort Bend County Health and Human Services is also using trucks to spray neighborhoods on a routine basis. Just this week, he county's first two human cases were reported. Both victims have been treated and are now at home recovering.
"The cases there varying in ages. One of the cases is zero to 14 and the other one is 35 to 39. So that's a big difference than what they are seeing around Texas which is the elderly patients 55 to 74," said Melanie Manville with the Ft. Bend Co. Health and Human Services.
Manville tells us Ft. Bend County workers plan to continue testing mosquitoes and spraying for them on the ground, but there are no plans at this point to begin aerial spraying.
Dr. Bueno adds that if we stay on trend from years past, hopefully starting in mid-September and on, we will finally start to see a decline in West Nile.
There are no plans for more aerial sprays in Harris County, but they are still collecting samples and doing surveillance. The county says it will spray again though if necessary.
Houston reported three new cases Friday bringing the city's total to 16 cases with three deaths. Harris County has reported six cases with no deaths.
As for other counties in our area, Fort Bend County has reported two cases of West Nile virus with zero deaths and Montgomery County has reported four cases with no deaths. Wharton County has had one case with one death. Liberty County has had one case with zero deaths. Galveston County, Brazoria County and Waller County have all had zero cases thus far.
According to the State Department of Health, there have been at least 23 West Nile deaths in Texas this year, with at least 640 people contracting the disease. Fifty-seven counties in Texas have reported West Nile cases this year.
Take precautions with kids heading back to school
The problem is expected to linger and with the school year starting up, more children will be spending time getting around. So HISD is taking some extra precautions.
Every district we spoke with Friday says they are well aware of the widespread problem and are doing what they can to protect kids as they head back to class. But parents also need to be proactive.
With kids heading back to school Monday morning, keeping mosquitos from biting them when they're waiting for the bus is up to parents.
According to HISD, students are not allowed to bring bug spray to school, but can bring a lotion-based repellant. Gwen Johnson with HISD says if a child has to wait for the bus early in the morning it's best to apply spray or lotion before they head out the door.
"Parents may send their children with a repellent lotion that they can apply. We're not asking any of our teacher or staff, anyone to apply that, but it can be brought to school with them," Johnson said.
Most of the school districts we spoke with say they are doing what they can to keep mosquitoes away from school grounds. Keeping the area around schools well-manicured and free of standing water is top priority.
"Watching children for signs and symptoms and what our ground crews and our folks are doing, they have regular maintenance schedule but of course there's that heightened sense because children are returning," said Johnson.
First young person contracts West Nile virus in Houston area
While the majority of the diagnosed cases have been older people, we are learning of the first young person to be hit with the virus.
A lot of us think of West Nile as only affecting the elderly or people whose immune systems are already compromised. But that is not necessarily the case.
Fort Bend County officials are now reporting that a child between the ages of 0 to 14 has contracted the virus. We're told that child has now been released from the hospital and is expected to be OK, but he or she was perfectly healthy before getting West Nile.
And a Sugar Land resident aged 35 to 44 with no pre-existing health conditions is also recovering in the hospital now.
"It's not a specific age group or target population that's getting sick with this so everybody needs to be alert. Everybody needs to be mindful when they're outside. If you do get bit by a mosquito, look for fever, vision loss, and tremors," said Melanie Manville with the Ft. Bend Co. Health and Human Services.
So the thing for you to take away from all this is to be careful, no matter who you are. Wear bug spray if you can and try to cover up with long sleeves and pants.