DSHS failed to notify county of 3 cases in humans

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Texas Department of State Health Services dropped the ball, according to Jim Wells County officials, when they failed to notify the county about three confirmed cases of West Nile last fall.

Jim Wells County Safety officials received an email on April 1, notifying them that the county had two confirmed cases of West Nile Fever, with the onsets of the illness in September and November.

Texas DSHS officials also found one case of West Nile neurologic disease, the onset of the illness occurred in an individual in October.

DSHS found no equine cases and no mosquito pools tested positive for West Nile in 2007.

Laura E. Robinson, DVM, MS sent the email on Tuesday.

She is a Zoonosis Control Veterinarian for the DSHS in Harlingen, Texas.

"I apologize for the delay in relaying this information to you," she wrote in the email to county officials.

County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz said DSHS had received confirmation on those cases in late December and early January, but failed to notify anyone in the county until three months later. Due to patient confidentiality laws, county officials were not told who the patients were, although Saenz said county officials were told that one case was in the northeast sector of JWC.

"I'm highly upset that they didn't advise us earlier about these cases," Saenz said. "I feel it's my duty to report to the public the information as soon as possible."

Robinson was not in the office Friday, and calls to Doug McBride with the DSHS Communications Office were not returned.

JWC Safety Officer Israel Lopez said in years past, when the county had a case of equine West Nile, they received confirmation from DSHS within two to three weeks. He said he has no idea why it took so long with these cases.

"From the results of the field testing we did back then, none of the four mosquito groups tested positive. We didn't have any idea, nobody had any idea till we saw it in the email," Lopez said. "I don't know what happened this go around, but we were pretty upset. We need to let the public know."

With spring already here, county officials are preparing their vector program for a busy mosquito season. Lopez said just because the area has experienced a lack of rain the last few months doesn't mean a mosquito problem isn't there. He said the public should start to prepare by looking around their areas and see where water is collecting.

"They can breed anywhere there is standing water, even at the bottom of an air conditioning unit, where water condensation collects," Lopez said.

He also pointed out that vases and other containers around yards, or even vases set out at cemeteries can collect standing water and be prominent breeding grounds for young mosquitoes.

There are six county employees certified in vector control, which is the program the county uses for pest management, and Lopez said the county needs more people certified.

Since the majority of the county is open area, instead of basic chemical spraying from a truck, which needs almost one-to-one contact with the mosquito to be effective, the county uses an integrated pest management program which focuses on eradicating the mosquitoes in large pools of standing water during the larvae stage.