Officials declare West Nile epidemic in North Texas

Public health officials in North Texas recently declared that the region is facing a West Nile virus epidemic.

In Dallas County, there have been 16 confirmed human cases of West Nile, two with West Nile fever and 14 with more severe neuro-invasive forms of the illness. The officials said that a warmer than average winter is behind the growing number of recorded cases, according to

"This fits the definition of an epidemic," Sandra Parker, the Tarrant County public health medical director, said, the Dallas Star-Telegram reports. "We need to do what we can to prevent the illness."

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness most common in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East. Scientists believe that the virus has been in the eastern United States since the late 1990s, and perhaps earlier, and that it has established itself in North America as a seasonal epidemic that emerges in summer and continues into autumn, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile virus prevention efforts focus on limiting the potential for bites from the Culex mosquito species, which carries the disease.

Health officials in Texas are urging residents to remove standing water or other potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes from their property. Residents are also advised to use insect repellent when outdoors, and to avoid being outdoors around dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.