By Brandon Hines
The summer of 2012 was not only hot, but also deadly. North Texans faced a mosquito outbreak this year of epic proportions. On Nov. 28, as part of Brookhaven’s Math and Science Lecture Series, Brookhaven College hosted Dallas’ Dr. Wendy Chung, Department of Health & Human Services Chief Epidemiologist, to speak about the West Nile virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been nearly 3,000 cases of West Nile virus diagnosed nationwide. In Texas alone, there have been 1,714 sickened and 76 deaths confirmed to date. Nearly 700 of these illnesses were in Dallas County alone.
Chung has been with the Dallas County Health Department for five years. West Nile takes two to 14 days to incubate. “By the time you have confirmed human cases, it can be weeks after the infections occurred,” Chung said.
Students, staff, faculty and local news media jam-packed the 189-maximum-capacity biology auditorium, filling it from top to bottom. The aisles and stairs were lined to over-capacity status with students taking notes ferociously and listening intently to every word Chung had to say.
A common misconception that people have about West Nile is that it is something that happens to someone else in a different ZIP code. “People think that it won’t happen to them or that they are immune to the disease,” Chung said. “I think that is counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve on a public health level, which is an appreciation that risk can sometimes be very unpredictable.”
According to Chung, 62 percent of the victims infected with the virus were Caucasian, 17 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black and 11 percent of other descent. “You cannot predict with certainty who is going to come down with a more severe disease in a situation like this,” Chung said.
“This semester, we wanted to have one big speaker: Dr. Chung,” Doris Rousey, executive dean of mathematics and science, said. “Chung tailored the presentation for Brookhaven science students. She used the right words that we would understand, yet was not demeaning,” Rousey said. The presentation was not atypical. “We knew that we wanted her [Chung] to come during the summer, but we knew that would be impossible because of the outbreak,” Rousey said. “We respectfully waited until things quieted down in the news. In the spring, we have planned to have a group come in from Doctors Without Borders.”
Chung went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her bachelor of science degree. She then received her master of science degree from Harvard University in tropical public health. After Harvard, Chung attended San Antonio’s Health and Science Center, where she earned her medical degree. Chung oversees Dallas County’s health department jurisdiction, the largest jurisdiction in Texas.
The City of Irving sent out Thomas Dickens, vector control technician for the city’s Parks and Recreation department. “We wanted to see what the plans were for next season as far as being predictable and to get a feel for what we can expect next season,” Dickens said. “What we just went through, to be honest with you, was hell. We had four deaths this season, all senior citizens. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to be proactive so that we can stop the mosquitoes before they become airborne.”
Chung said that in July, Dallas County had 41 traps test positive for the West Nile Virus. The majority of people who got the virus reported that they spent less than two hours outside each day.. “I was very surprised. I actually know some people that got West Nile,” Brookhaven student Terry Williams said. “The lecture was part of our class for microbiology. It was nice to do something new outside the classroom.”
Williams has attended Brookhaven College for a year and a half and wants to be a nurse. Williams added, “I never realized how spread out the virus is. I would like to see more of these programs on campus.”