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West Nile, Ebola, Zika Virus: Why Do Infectious Diseases Make Their Way To Dallas?

Dallas has three major factors in play that contribute to its relationship with infectious diseases.

Five stories that have North Texas talking: Counties rocked by the Dec. 26 tornados now have federal support; the sunken Dallas Wave in the Trinity River faces an ultimatum; watch baby penguins hatch at the Dallas Zoo; and more.

Why Dallas? A recurring question after major viruses like West Nile, Ebola and Zika all have started abroad but have managed to arrive in the city one way or another. Dr. Seema Yasmin, a physician and professor at UT Dallas talked with Texas Standard’sDavid Brown about the factors or patterns that make Dallas a hub for these kind of diseases.

Yasmin and others in the field anticipated Zika virus entering the U.S., but she was quite surprised that Dallas reported the first sexually transmitted case, which has only happened one other time in history of the virus. "Either people were rolling their eyes, or they were shocked, but many people were saying the same thing: ‘Why is it always us in Dallas? Why do we either have to get everything first or get everything the biggest?’ It’s almost like the city’s in a competition with the rest of the world.”

After consulting with various experts — a mathematician, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and infectious disease researchers —Yasmin distilled three main contributing factors:   

  • High poverty rate, which is directly linked with infectious diseases
  • Rising temperatures in Dallas and elsewhere
  • Connectedness, meaning you can access different areas of the country and abroad in just a few hours on a plane from Dallas

Brown said you could make the same argument for places like Houston, Atlanta or New York City. Again, why Dallas?

Yasmin said the reason could be the specific combination of Dallas’ well-connected location, growing population, rising temperatures and high poverty rate all going on “at the same time in the exact same way.”

Listen to the full interview for Texas Standard and read Dr. Yasmin’s story, “Why is Dallas ground zero for infectious diseases like Zika?” for The Dallas Morning News.  

[Texas Standard]

  • Twenty-five counties in Texas are now eligible for federal support in wake of deadly end-of-December tornados. President Obama declared the following counties federal disaster areas: Bailey, Castro, Childress, Cochran, Dallas, Deaf Smith, Dickens, Ellis, Hall, Hardeman, Harrison, Henderson, Hopkins, Kaufman, Kent, King, Lamb, Lubbock, Navarro, Parmer, Rains, Red River, Rockwall, Titus and Van Zandt counties. The Associated Press reported: “[Gov. Greg Abbot’s] request for individual assistance is pending for Collin, Dallas, Ellis, Franklin, Rockwall and Van Zandt counties. [Associated Press]
  • Dallas needs to decide whether to remove or repair the sunken whitewater feature in the Trinity River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given the City a mid-March deadline to move forward with the $4-million Dallas Wave that’s been closed for nearly five years, The Dallas Morning News reported.“At last week’s meeting of the Park Board, a majority of the board said it supports removal — even if it’s more expensive than repair, which [Park and Recreation Department Director Willis] Winters said could be the case. And even City Manager A.C. Gonzalez has conceded that the Dallas Wave was ‘a mistake.’” Read the full letter the Corps sent to Dallas’ Park and Recreation Department. [Dallas Morning News]
  • Is “barbecue homogenization” a threat? No, it’s a trend. Barbecue in Texas remains just as unique in choice of sauce, rub and cooking method, as it does in the Deep South. Texas Standard explains: “Barbecue homogenization is a current trend blurring the line between what makes a certain state’s barbecue unique from another’s. "It's really seeing the specialties of specific regions being spread far and wide," Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor, says. "There is something to say about the regionalism of each one of these barbecue styles. It's part of what makes them special." Don’t worry. Texas isn’t losing this delicious part of its cultural identity — more people are just getting a taste. Read more. [Texas Standard]
  • The Dallas Zoo welcomed two baby penguins recently. The chicks, who hatched four days apart, are the second and third baby penguins to be born at the zoo. The Dallas Morning News reported: “The pair hatched Jan. 28 and Feb. 1 to parents Tazo and Tulip. They are the siblings of Marina, the African black footed penguin who took her first swim at Glendenning Penguin Cove in July 2015.” Visitors won’t be able to see the little ones swim until they are around 3.5 months, but the zoo provided sufficiently cute footage of the babies. [Dallas Morning News]