Nationally, the number of West Nile cases in humans is four times the usual number. Half of the more than 1,100 cases have been reported in Texas.
Harris County has had 19 people infected and three deaths. Fort Bend and Montgomery counties have had two cases each, while Galveston, Liberty and Waller counties has had one so far.
Late Wednesday evening, a plane sprayed insecticide over a portion of northwest Harris County to keep the virus from spreading. We were on the tarmac at Hooks Airport when the plane took off.
This is the first time all summer the county has invested in aerial mosquito spraying. Northwest Harris County benefits because it's where the majority of infected mosquitos and birds have been found.
With the tank full and the maps loaded, chief pilot Malcolm Williams climbed aboard a plane to take off. For the next six hours. His plane sprayed pesticide on some 63,0000 acres in northwest Harris County -- an air assault on mosquitoes to supplement what's being done on the ground.
"When we start to see this kind of activity, aerial treatment really enhances our operation quite a bit," Williams said.
And this season has been active. Twenty-five human cases of West Nile in the Houston area, three deaths and more birds that carry the disease recovered than in years past, raising red flags for Director of HCPHES Mosquito Control Dr. Rudy Bueno.
"That tells me there are higher levels of the virus in this area," Dr. Bueno said.
And it reinforces pilot Williams' commitment to what he does.
"We protect lives," Bueno said. "Every time the West Nile, the MIR, the mosquito infection rate gets up, Harris County calls us in to knock them back down so that it doesn't bleed over into the human population."
By the end of the night, Williams and another pilot dropped 5.5 loads of the EPA-approved insecticide Dibrom. That's three-quarters of an ounce an acre.
Some ladies we caught up with like the strategy, but have their own.
"I feel like if I keep moving, they're not going to get on me," one woman said.
Aerial spraying costs the county about $100,000 each year.
Officials say people in northwest Harris County should notice a big difference in the mosquito population come Thursday.
Meanwhile, results from new samples will be back Thursday and Friday, according to Dr. Bueno.
As for other counties in our area, one death was reported Thursday in Wharton County. Fort Bend County and Montgomery County have each reported two cases of West Nile virus with no deaths. Liberty County has had one case with zero deaths. Galveston County and Waller County have both had zero cases thus far.
Mosquito-proof your property
HCPHES continues to encourage residents to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats around their property.
- Remove or empty all outside containers that may hold water such as flowerpots, tires and toys.
- Bird baths and pet water bowls should be changed at least twice a week.
- Clean out gutters and make sure windows and doors have proper screening.
- Do not "feed" the storm drains. Sweep up lawn clippings, leaves and tree limbs from sidewalks and driveways and dispose of them properly.
Prevent mosquito breeding in boats
- Cover your boat and store it in a covered place.
- Drain any standing water and make sure the bilge pump is working.
- Turn over canoes, kayaks and small boats to store upside down.
Historically, in Harris County, July through September is the peak timeframe for disease transmission to humans. To reduce the likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes, practice personal protective measures.
- When outdoors, use an insect repellent containing the active ingredient DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 and apply as directed on the label.
- If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
For additional information and/or maps of West Nile Virus activity in Harris County, visit www.hcphes.org.