July 31, 2012

Tarrant County records first West Nile death

The woman in her 60s lived in Euless but the city is not sure if that is where she was infected.

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Tarrant County reported its first death from West Nile virus Tuesday with the death of a Euless woman in her 60s, public health officials reported.

The woman suffered from underlying health conditions but Tarrant County Public Health Department workers would not be more specific concerning her illness. The county did not say when she actually died.

Euless City Manager Gary McKamie said the city's public works department was notified by the county Tuesday that one of the city's residents has died from West Nile. The resident lives in the 76039 zip code, an area north of Harwood and east of Main.

"But I don't know anything other than it was a senior citizen with underlying health issues," McKamie said. "We don't know if the infection happened in the area where the person lived."

This year, 67 people have come down with West Nile virus in Tarrant County, making it the worst year for the virus infections since 2009, when there were 32 human cases and three deaths.

This year In Dallas County there has been five deaths and 100 West Nile virus infections. In Denton County, officials reported 38 human cases and no deaths.

"We want people to really continue to be vigilant with the efforts they are making around their homes," said Vanassa Joseph, Tarrant County public health spokeswoman. "Part of what we are dealing with is that we had a mild winter and wet spring. that just set the stage for the potential increase in mosquito activity."

Staying vigilant

People 50 and older are particularly susceptible to the West Nile virus, which comes in two forms -- the more serious neuroinvasive form and West Nile fever, which has milder symptoms and typically has better outcomes.

Tarrant County handles the traps and does the testing on the mosquitoes. Individual cities are responsible for taking preventative measures.

Euless' public works department, which handles the city's mosquito abatement program, has been spraying every other week since April. Still, the city, which gets a weekly report from the county, was told Tuesday that it had two positive mosquito pools with West Nile virus.

"I can't tell you how many," McKamie said. "We spray based on what's found. But in general we've been doing citywide spraying every other week."

Heat emergencies

Tarrant County is also experiencing a second public health concern: emergency rooms are becoming more crowded with heat-related illnesses as temperatures rise into the triple digits, according to health department officials.

Numbers from the 46 hospitals that voluntarily provide data to the health department show that 32 people visited emergency rooms between June 21 and 28 and also between July 19 and 26.

"Both those periods correspond with the onset of average temperatures increasing to near record highs," said Dennis Cavanaugh, a meteorologist with the Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service. "We had a high of 92 degrees on June 18 which went to a high of 106 on June 26. On July 19 it was already 101 degrees and that progressed to 107 degrees on July 21 which either tied or set a record for that day."

No deaths associated with the heat have been recorded in Tarrant County, but since May 1 hospitals have recorded 189 emergency room visits because of the heat. The percentage of emergency room visits attributable to the heat rose from 10 percent between July 12 and July 19 to 24 percent between July 19 and July 26, health department records show.

"We've had above normal temps for the last two weeks," Cavanaugh said. "If you add today it will be four days straight above 100 degrees."

MedStar, which provides ambulance services for Fort Worth and 14 other Tarrant County cities, responded to 116 heat related calls in July, up from 75 in June and 28 in May, according to Matt Zavadski, MedStar spokesman.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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