The mayor of Dallas Mike Rawlings has declared a state of emergency as 381 cases of West Nile virus have been reported so far this year, and the disease has already caused 17 deaths in Texas. Last night, in an effort to battle the mosquito-borne illness, the mayor ordered the aerial spraying of the insecticide Duet over the entire city of Dallas.
The city hopes that spraying the pesticide will help quell the worst outbreak of the virus in the US this year. It’s the first time Dallas has declared a state of emergency and ordered aerial spraying since 1966. The virus, which is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites is said to be reaching epidemic proportions in north Texas. In an announcement to the press, Dr David Lakey, the Texas state health commissioner said: “Right now, Texas has half the West Nile cases in the nation. Dallas County has half of the cases in the state of Texas. So, about a quarter of all the cases in the United States are in this county. So, this isn’t business as usual.”
According to Texas department of state health services figures, the state has seen 465 reported West Nile cases including 17 related deaths. Ten deaths and more than 200 cases have been reported in Dallas County, which has a population of around 2.4 million. Houston, the largest city in Texas, has recorded seven cases and one fatality.
The pesticide that will be unleashed over Dallas is called Duet. It has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and is similar to products used at ground level to kill mosquitoes. It will be dispersed overnight by a spraying company called Clarke, who will fly twin-engine aircraft at an altitude of 300 feet releasing one ounce of Duet per acre.
According to Mayor Rawlings, Duet poses no health threat. “I’ve been studying this closely, talked to a lot of people, the CDC, the EPA, and everybody says this is safe. Other cities have done this before – this is what New York City uses, this is what Sacramento’s been doing for five years, and this dissipates very quickly and so there is no health effects proven and I think the science backs us up on that.”
“Beneficial insects need hopefully to be gone and be down in the earth when it gets night, that’s when mosquitoes come out. It does impact very small insects if they come in contact with it.”
West Nile virus was first discovered in the US in New York. Most cases occur in the summer, with the greatest risk of infection coming from late August to early September. It mainly affects the old and the young – those whose immune systems are weak. Most people suffer no effects, but for less than 1%, it can cause neurological illness.